When Neil Armstrong became the first human to
stand on the Moon, he had a three-dimensional view that allowed him to select
samples to bring home to Earth. Now, scientists – and you – can see part of the
first rock he picked up in unprecedented resolution and detail online through a
NASA project with an interdisciplinary artist.
The digitization is part of NASA’s
Astromaterials 3D project that began in 2013 to make the lunar sample
collection more accessible to researchers and the public. The agency plans to
make 50 to 60 samples available on its website beginning in the Spring of
2020. The samples provide the public with research-grade photogrammetric
exterior and X-ray computed tomography interior 3D models.
Since 2013, the artist, Erika Blumenfeld, has been leading the
development of the digital database with a multidisciplinary team. This sample
and the future collection of 3D samples, will make these research-grade 3D
models accessible worldwide in a new way. They’re an information-rich
visualization of NASA’s remarkable Apollo lunar and Antarctic meteorite
“These rocks have incredible significant
scientific value but they also have real cultural significance as well,“ said
Blumenfeld. “This project helps make them more accessible to researchers but
also to people beyond the research community. Their unique characteristics and
composition, and the stories they tell of our Earth, Moon, and Solar System,
become available to everyone.”
Apollo Sample 10021,79, a subsample of parent
rock 10021 which, in turn, is a subsample of the first Apollo sample collected
(contingency soil sample 10010) has an extraordinary story to tell. It was
formed when an energetic impact on the lunar surface sintered the fine lunar
soil into rock through heat and pressure.
The soil that comprises this rock came from
older impact events and volcanic processes that occurred over billions of years.
Within its matrix are multi-colored glass spherules, indicative of impact melt
formed in the atmosphere-free conditions on the Moon. The sample is 14.7 grams
of the 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of rock and soil that the six Apollo lunar
surface missions returned to Earth. The sample was on the ground directly
outside the lunar module where Armstrong first placed his foot on lunar soil.
Charged with going full speed ahead to the Moon,
NASA’s Artemis Program is working to send the first woman and next man to the
surface by 2024. This time, NASA plans to land on the South Pole, where humans
have never been before. Scientists hope to find out more about our own planet
by studying the geology of the Earth, the Moon, and Mars. By comparing the
three planetary bodies we know the most about to understand the ways in which
they are similar and different, we will learn fundamental facts about how
planets and planetary systems form.
Projects like Astromaterials in 3D are helping
bring that knowledge to a wider audience.
The project is managed by the Astromaterials
Research and Exploration Science Directorate at NASA’s
Johnson Space Center in Houston
A view of the Astromaterials 3D project's high-resolution photographic equipment setup inside the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility at Johnson Space Center. (NASA/Erika Blumenfeld)
Astromaterials 3D’s first public release of an interactive 3D model of Apollo 11 Lunar Sample 10021,79, a small rock from the Contingency Sample, the very first sample picked up from the Moon. (NASA/Astromaterials 3D)