• NASA has assigned scientific teams to study soil samples from the Moon
  • NASA waited for technology to improve before opening the samples
  • Scientists are hoping to study the evolution of life in space through the samples

Scientists from NASA are preparing to open up soil samples taken from the Moon by previous Apollo missions. The agency’s scientists are hoping to learn more about the evolution of life in space through the lunar samples.

For about 50 years, the lunar samples have been sitting in NASA’s laboratories waiting to be opened. When they first reached Earth, scientists from NASA’s Apollo era decided to store the samples and wait for technology to improve before studying them.

Recently, NASA selected a total of nine science groups who will study the soil samples taken from the Moon. Two of these groups are from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. According to Jamie Elsila, an astrochemist at NASA’s Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory, today’s scientific instruments will allow the scientists to carry out detailed observations on the lunar samples.

“We are using instruments that did not exist during early analyses of Moon samples,” she said in a statement. “Because our tools today are more sensitive. We can analyze things that are present in tiny amounts. We also now can separate chemical compounds from a mixture, making it easier to identify them.”

By studying the samples, NASA and the scientists are hoping to uncover traces of life and how it evolved in the Solar System. They are also looking to study how the Moon’s surface conditions were changed by the radiation coming from space and the Sun.

In addition to getting a better understanding of the Moon, the scientists believe that the soil samples can also provide new information about Earth. Since both Earth and the Moon were formed together following a violent impact event, the preserved lunar soil samples can provide clues regarding the planet’s surface conditions billions of years ago.

“We don’t have any rocks on Earth that are older than about 4 billion years old, so we don’t know exactly how much volcanic activity there was or how heavily Earth was bombarded by asteroids,” Barbara Cohen, who heads the second NASA laboratory that will study the samples, explained.

“Since the Earth and the Moon formed together, we can use our findings from the Moon to infer what happened on the early Earth,” she added.

Lunar soil samples
From left to right, NASA scientists Sarah Valencia, Barbara Cohen and Natalie Curran hold Moon soil samples collected by Apollo astronauts. In their lab, the Mid-Atlantic Noble Gas Research Laboratory (MNGRL) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, these scientists analyze Moon soil to learn more about the evolution of the solar system. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Molly Wasser