Apollo 11 carried the first geologic samples from the Moon back to Earth. In all, astronauts collected 22 kilograms of material, including 50 rocks, samples of the fine-grained lunar "soil," and two core tubes that included material from up to 13 centimeters below the Moon's surface. These samples contain no water and provide no evidence for living organisms at any time in the Moon's history. Two main types of rocks, basalts and breccias, were found at the Apollo 11 landing site.
The Apollo 11 samples and samples from almost every Apollo mission until the last one in December 1972 have been securely housed on the 4th floor of the physics department's Compton Laboratory. Today, the remaining lunar samples in Compton Hall that arrived in 1969 from the Apollo 11 mission and from subsequent Apollo missions in the 1970s are being painstakingly prepared for a return trip to Houston to NASA's moon rocks repository, the Lunar Sample Building at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
-------Distribution of the lunar sample displays
In November 1969, then-U.S. President Richard Nixon requested that NASA create approximately 250 displays containing lunar surface material and the flags of 135 nations, U.S. possessions and states.
Each presentation included 0.05 grams of Apollo 11 moon dust, in the form of four small pieces encased in an acrylic button, as well as the flag of the recipient nation or state, also flown on the first manned lunar landing mission.
The displays that were presented to foreign heads of state included the inscription:
Presented to the People of ____________ by Richard Nixon, President of the United States of America.
This Flag of Your Nation was carried to the Moon and Back by Apollo 11 and This Fragment of the Moon's Surface was brought to Earth by the Crew of That First Manned Lunar Landing.
Once gifted, each of the lunar sample displays became the property of the recipient entity and therefore was no longer subject to being tracked by NASA. All other lunar samples' locations are well documented by the U.S. space agency to this day (with exception to similarly gifted Apollo 17 goodwill moon rocks).
As property of the nation or state, the Apollo 11 lunar samples are now subject to the laws for public gifts as set by that country. In most cases, as in the United States, public gifts cannot be legally transferred to individual ownership without the passage of additional legislation.
Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin setting their feet on the moon on July 21, 1969 is a historical achievement. They brought 25 kg of moonstones collected from there recording as a first consignment which brought from a sub planet to the Earth by man are considered to be the most precious scientific specimens of all the time. Portions of the sample have been distributed to 106 “principle investigators” in the United States and 36 in eight other countries. The investigators, all eminent in their specialties included Sri Lankan – late Dr. Cyril Ponnamperuma were selected for this work.
Preliminary examination team at the spacecraft center at Houston was first to scrutinize the samples. Preliminary examination team member’s performed time critical tests considered necessary before prolonged absence from the moon and exposure to Earth’s atmosphere might cause changes in the samples. They also exposed 30 species of animals and plants to lunar samples to test whether “moon germs” caused disease.
A surprising discovery emerged from test for determining approximate age of the moon rocks are about 4billion years.
A part of these stones were gifted to Sri Lanka by former US President Richard Nixon in 1973 and at present kept in the Geological Unit of the National Museums Department.
Display of Moon Rocks
The National Museum of Natural History was established on September 23, 1986, now completes 23 years. A special exhibition titled "Moonstones and mineral resources in Sri Lanka” was held to coincide with the 23rd anniversary.
At this exhibition these moonstones and related important photographs were on display. Exhibiting of Sri Lanka Ministerial Resources is the other part of this exhibition. The schoolchildren and the public got a wide understanding about our resources through those gems, graphite, mineral sands, mica, silica, sand sulphur, clay and limestones found in Sri Lanka.
This exhibition held through 23.09.2009 to 07.10.2009 many schools students and public came to witness the historical moonstones.
Sri Lanka Astronomical Association hopes to collaborate with the National Museum of Natural History to hold more public viewing exhibition of the Moonstones.
Sri Lanka Astronomical Association
Thanks to Mr. Wajith Abeysinghe – curator at National Museum of Natural History.
Data Sources: NASA archives, National Museum of Natural History, collectSPACE
All photographs are copyrighted by Thilina Heenatigala.