As NASA prepares for the Artemis moon missions, its scientists have cracked open lunar samples frozen since the Apollo 17 mission almost 50 years ago. The samples collected during the agency's last crewed moon mission were recently brought to the Goddard Space Flight Facility in Maryland from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where they had been in a freezer for decades, Space.com reports. Some of the samples of lunar soil brought back in Dec. 1972 were kept at room temperature, while others were frozen as part of a long-term test of which preservation method was better, reports the Smithsonian.
Earlier research found amino acids—some of the building blocks of life—on the moon, and researchers say the newly unopened samples might provide more clues about the origins of life on Earth, and possibly beyond. They also hope to learn more about the effectiveness of curation methods before the Artemis missions. "By doing this work we're not just facilitating Artemis exploration, but we're facilitating future sample return and human exploration into the rest of the solar system,” NASA planetary scientist Julie Mitchell, leader of the Artemis curation team at Johnson, said in a statement.
Mitchell and her team designed a facility to handle the frozen Apollo 17 samples, using a new technique that might also be used to handle ice samples the Artemis missions are expected to bring back from the moon's south pole. "Everything we do involves a lot of logistics and a lot of infrastructure, but adding the cold makes it a lot harder,” said Apollo sample curator Ryan Zeigler. "It’s an important learning lesson for Artemis, as being able to process samples in the cold will be even more important for the Artemis mission than it is for Apollo." (Read more NASA stories.)