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I know that samples of lunar regolith were taken on many missions to and from the moon, but I also know that these rocks aren't common and are being used for analysis purposes. According to this NASA article, 400 samples are distributed to educators, scientists and other interested parties on a yearly basis.

If they're "giving the stuff away" for scientific study, how much is truly left and viable for analysis on Earth-- do these scientific experiments require that the sample not be tainted or destroyed?


The article states that:

  • 382,000 grams came back on-board six USA missions.
  • 300 grams came back on-board three automated Soviet missions.

There's nothing stated about what the Soviets are doing with their mass, but 382,000 grams is a lot. If anyone has approximates on the quantity of mass given away in the 400 yearly samples, we could estimate how much is left. This approximation (provided a source on average sample distribution) is good enough for what I'm looking for in an answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Russian samples were traded for American ones mainly because they were from different locations on the Moon, so scientists could obtain more broad picture. $\endgroup$ – Heopps Jul 27 '18 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Heopps I tried to allude to that fact, but my wording was poorly chosen now that I re-read what I said. Actually I'm just going to remove that, utterly superfluous information that I got from another answer on the site-- good distinction though. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jul 27 '18 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ Technically, all of it is still on Earth, unless some of it was put on a rocket & blasted into space, or somehow vaporized during analytical investigations. I know some of it was pulverized for analysis purposes - but it still Moon material. A better question might be "how much Moon material is still available for scientific investigation or research purposes?" $\endgroup$ – Fred Jul 27 '18 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Fred yep, that's basically what I meant. How much of it is still in a usable state, and are the experiments allowed to be performed on it constrained in anyway to preserve the material? Is the main question. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jul 27 '18 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Fred: The samples were stored and handeled under vacuum conditions at first. Now they are stored in dry nitrogen to prevent reactions with oxygen & moisture. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Jul 27 '18 at 16:03
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A large amount of Moon samples has not been studied at all yet.

Out of 9 sealed containers brought back to Earth in the Apollo program, 3 containers have never been opened. In early 2018, a group of scientists advocated opening one of these containers. From the opened containers, most of the samples haven't been studied extensively either. In total 83% of the samples remain unstudied, according to this.

Samples are not given away, they are loaned to scientists and must be returned. Samples have been subdivided (e.g. by cutting a rock into small fragments).

The Lunar Sample Allocations Handbook (Rev. F, 2012) specifies that studied samples have to be returned to NASA, with a few exceptions.

The Apollo Sample Curator may authorize disposal other than by return. With respect to such a disposal, the PI is to inform the Apollo Sample Curator of (a) the identity of the subject lunar sample(s) or lunar sample material(s), (b) the pertinent facts supporting the request for disposal rather than return, (c) a plan for the disposal of the subject material, and (d) submission of the requisite forms detailing the method of destruction, the sample number and type, and the mass involved. The Apollo Sample Curator must approve all plans to destroy lunar samples in lieu of return to Curation Office.

About 4% of samples has been destroyed.

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  • $\begingroup$ The 'should we open the containers' article was a great reference, I didn't think about how the integrity of the seals were such a huge deal and how oxidization would already taint the samples. I wonder if care is taken when delivering the loaned gram samples to maintain a modicum of that vacuum that was potentially preserved by the seals... In addition to this, thanks for providing that there must be a disposal plan; I was wondering what the average plan for disposal was (if disposal of it was even allowed). $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jul 27 '18 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ I'm accepting this-- as the sources give more than enough information than I believe can be reasonably provided by another answer, I don't think we need another, this is great. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jul 27 '18 at 16:37
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    $\begingroup$ Hopefully the 3 unopened containers are stored within a larger vacuum container. If the seals failed, no air should contaminate the samples inside. At least the containers should be stored within a nitrogen filled compartment. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Jul 28 '18 at 11:18

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