Inside a locked vault at Johnson Space Center is treasure few have seen and fewer have touched. The restricted lab is home to hundreds of pounds of moon rocks collected by Apollo astronauts close to a half-century ago. And for the first time in decades, NASA is about to open some of the pristine samples and let geologists take a crack at them with 21st-century technology, the AP reports. What better way to mark this summer's 50th anniversary of humanity's first footsteps on the moon than by sharing a bit of the lunar loot. "It's sort of a coincidence that we're opening them in the year of the anniversary," explains NASA's Apollo sample curator Ryan Zeigler. "But certainly the anniversary increased the awareness and the fact that we're going back to the moon."
Zeigler's job is to preserve what the 12 moonwalkers brought back from 1969 through 1972—lunar samples totaling 842 pounds—and ensure scientists get the best possible samples for study. The lunar sample lab has two side-by-side vaults: one for rocks still in straight-from-the-moon condition and a smaller vault for samples previously loaned out for study. About 70% of the original haul is in the pristine sample vault, which has two combinations and takes two people to unlock. Compared with Apollo-era tech, today's science instruments are much more sensitive, Zeigler notes. "We can do more with a milligram than we could do with a gram back then. So it was really good planning on their part to wait," he says.
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