Understand the significance of Moon rocks


Image that shows the Moon surface from the Over the Moon film.

Moon rocks are a huge part of the scientific discovery and understanding of our universe and planet. They can tell us about how planets and moons were formed and guide us as we prepare for further space exploration.

Though NASA's Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office has a list of all extraterrestrial samples from the Moon and elsewhere, this module focuses on those collected from the Moon. Across the six Apollo missions that landed humans on the Moon, and the three lunar missions that landed robotic probes on the Moon, we've successfully returned 383 kilograms (over 800 pounds) of rocks, soil, core samples. All of these samples have been categorized and photographed and are available to view on the NASA Lunar Sample and Photo Catalog.

The catalog is not only of interest to the casual space enthusiast, but it is a critical resource for active researchers and educational institutions that might inspire the next generation of space rock scientists. You can actually request samples for research, education, or public displays. The challenge for the curation office then is to make sure that there are enough samples of different kinds of lunar matter to continue the collective understanding of our universe and planet.

This challenge is especially difficult for two reasons:

  • We can't simply send an astronaut up to the Moon to collect a bit more of a particular type of rock.
  • When astronauts do land on the Moon again, it might be difficult for them to identify specifically what type of sample they are collecting.

Moon rock samples undergo a thorough analysis and cleansing by experts here on Earth, and it's the curators who develop an understanding of what samples they have, what requests for samples they get, and what is the most challenging part of ensuring that research can continue.

This module begins to explore how you can use data and a bit of Python coding to come up with an understanding of what we have, and make recommendations for what the next pair of astronauts should look for when they land on the Moon as part of the Artemis program in 2024.

Before you continue, be sure to spend time going through the Lunar Sample and Photo Catalog. Although this module focuses on the weights, types, and number of samples for each Apollo mission, there are a lot of other details that you could use to expand on the analysis and to help you develop even better recommendations for the next team of astronauts.