Apollo 17 lunar samples unveiled after 47 years

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GREENBELT, Md. (Gray DC) — It was December 1972. Apollo 17 astronauts Jack Schmitt and Gene Cernan set up science experiments on the Moon and gathered samples to bring back to Earth.

The tube that Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan drilled into the lunar surface in 1972 was recently opened for the first time. (Source: NASA/James Blair.)

Cernan drilled a tube into the surface to collect rock samples. That core was locked away, and remained untouched, until now.

Earlier this month, after 47 years, NASA scientists got their first look inside the tube. Samples are heading to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland for research.

"This sample is very special to us. It's a sample that's never been opened," said Barbara Cohen, a planetary scientist at Goddard's Mid-Atlantic Noble Gas Research Laboratory (Moon Girl for short). "What we want to know is - how old those rocks are, when they formed, and how long they were exposed to space."

Cohen's team of women scientists can't wait to get their hands on the new samples. They've already studied ones from other Apollo missions.

They showed us what those other samples look like — rock fragments no bigger than one millimeter. That's all they need to study the samples.

As NASA prepares to head back to the Moon, the scientists are hoping the samples they receive can tell them more about water.

"Water, of course, is a resource we want to use for future lunar exploration. For humans, maybe we can drink it. Maybe we can split it up and use it as rocket fuel. So water is really one of those things we want to understand on the moon," explained Cohen.

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