Moon rocks still yielding secrets 40 years later

July 18th, 2009 - 2:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 18 (IANS) There are still many secrets waiting to be gleaned from moon rocks collected by Apollo 11 astronauts on their historic moonwalk 40 years ago.
Randy L Korotev, research professor in the department of earth and planetary sciences Washington University-St Louis (WUSTL), has studied lunar samples and their chemical compositions since he was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin.

He “was in the right place at the right time” in 1969 to be a part of a team to study some of the first lunar samples. “We know even more now and can ask smarter questions as we research these samples,” says Korotev.

He is mainly interested in studying the impact history of the moon, how the moon’s surface has been affected by meteorite impacts and the nature of the early lunar crust.

“There are still some answers, we believe, in the Apollo 11 mission. It’s only been fairly recently that we decided that we should look closer at these Apollo 11 samples.”

Korotev credits the late Robert M. Walker, Washington University’s physics professor and a handful of other scientists for the fact that there are even moon samples to study.

“Bringing samples back from the moon wasn’t the point of the mission,” says Korotev. “It was really about politics. It took scientists like Bob Walker to bring these samples back — to show the value of them for research.

“Bob convinced them to build a receiving lab for the samples and advised them on the handling and storage of them. We didn’t’ go to the moon to collect rocks, so we scientists are really lucky that we have this collection.”

Korotev points out that by the last Apollo mission — Apollo 17 — one of the astronauts on board was a geologist, Harrison H. Schmitt, said a WUSTL release.

Walker was recruited to serve on the scientific team that advised NASA on the handling and distribution of moon rocks and soil samples from the first Apollo missions. That team distributed Apollo 11 samples to some 150 laboratories worldwide, including WUSTL.

The Apollo 11 samples — and samples from almost every Apollo mission until the last one in December 1972 — have been securely housed on the fourth floor of the physics department’s Compton Lab and used by numerous WUSTL researchers.

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