Scientists from Washington University in St. Louis help recover gases from a container of lunar soil that astronauts collected and sealed under a vacuum on the moon’s surface in 1972. The effort is part of NASA’s Next Generation Apollo Sample Analysis (ANGSA) initiative. .
Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison Schmidt and Eugene Cernan collected the sample from the ancient landslide site in the Taurus Lettro Valley on the Moon. The astronauts used a drilling rig to extract a plume of lunar regolith — a coarse mixture of dust, soil, and fractured rock from the lunar surface — and put it in a container. Back on Earth, NASA carefully placed the container in the lunar vault at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where it remained in a pristine, almost untouched state until now.
“For this reason, our devices are designed to be able to extract not just one gas but several extractions of different sizes under different conditions,” he said.
“To help us make informed decisions during these extractions, we have integrated a mass spectrometer into the instrument for real-time composition analyzes of the gas, and three high-accuracy manometers for non-destructive, gas-independent pressure measurements,” Meschik said.
Misik led the design and construction of the manifold extraction device, with support from Olga Pravdevtseva, associate research professor of physics, and Rita Baray, assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences who are also faculty fellows at the McDonnell Space Science Center, all in arts and sciences at the University of Washington. The three scientists are internationally recognized for their high-resolution analyzes of the noble gases of terrestrial and extraterrestrial matter from different bodies in the Solar System, including the Sun itself (the Genesis mission) and cosmic dust (the Stardust mission).
Ryan Ziegler, NASA Apollo sample curator and University of Washington graduate student, also helped test the device at Johnson Space Center.
“Fifty years ago, when these samples were collected, NASA scientists had the foresight to devise organizing procedures that would ensure that future generations had access to the original samples when new analytical methods and procedures became available, and asked new scientific questions,” said Brad Jolev, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Scott Rudolph and Director of the McDonnell Center for Space Science.
Jolev, who is the institutional principal investigator for Washington University on its ANGSA team, which is led by the University of New Mexico, said.
Studies of the noble gases are a great example because they contain not only a lot of information about the implantation of material at present from the Sun to the surface of the Moon, but also about the origin of the Moon four and a half billion years ago. Stay tuned for the next exciting results! “
Studies of the noble gases are a great example because they contain not only a lot of information about the current implantation of material from the Sun to the surface of the Moon, but also about the origin of the Moon itself four and a half billion years ago. Stay tuned for interesting results to come!
Preliminary scientific results from the initial set of gas will be discussed during the Planetary and Lunar Science Conference, which will be held in Houston March 7-11.
Lunar gases are now collected from storage containers using a manifold extraction device. After collecting the trapped gases in the containers, the team plans to allow the other gases to slowly diffuse out of the moon rocks themselves. NASA will then send the gases to select laboratories in the United States and Europe that specialize in high-resolution analyzes of oxygen, nitrogen, noble gases, and organic matter — including to the University of Washington.
Jolev noted, “An important characteristic of 73001 (NASA ID for an Apollo 17 lunar regolith sample) is that it was captured at a depth that was always below freezing for water.” So it was thought that it might preserve more volatiles than the top , which was subjected to more effects of daytime heating and cooling.
As an experimental physicist, Misek has a background in high-vacuum equipment and isotope mass spectrometry dating back to his university years in Russia, then at the Max Planck Institute for Kernwisek in Heidelberg, Germany, and finally at the University of Washington.
He shared a personal reflection on the many hours of meticulous work he spent assembling the extraction device with his wife and frequent collaborator Pravdivtseva:
“Construction of the device happened at the height of the COVID restrictions, when we had to maintain a six-foot distance between team members and work most of the time from home,” Meshek said. “We were only restricted in temporary external contacts with our colleagues at EPS. Meanwhile, the construction required more than two hands. Fortunately the restrictions did not apply to married couples. This is how the device became a family business.”
Read more on the physics department website.
The University of Washington’s participation in the ANGSA program is through the Consortium for Advanced Analysis of Apollo Samples, led by Principal Investigator Charles (Chip) Shearer, University of New Mexico.