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Apollo 11 moon dust found in storage after 40 years; NASA wants samples returned

America fell in love with the Apollo 11 crew when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969. More than 40 years later, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says it has discovered moon dust samples collected by the Apollo 11 crew in storage.

Back in 1969, when Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins returned to Earth, the moon dust samples were sent to about 150 laboratories worldwide to be used in science experiments.

One of the 150 laboratories that the moon dust samples were sent to was the Space Sciences Laboratory on the University of California at Berkeley campus. NASA lent the moon dust samples to laboratories with only one stipulation: that they be returned to the space agency when they were no longer needed for experimentation and papers. These samples, however, went into storage for more than forty years.

Archivist Karen Nelson of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory discovered about 20 vials of the moon dust back in April. The vials had handwritten labels and were dated “24 July 1970.” The vials of moon dust were “vacuumed sealed in a glass jar.” At this point, the lab does not know how or when the vials ended up in storage. Perhaps other experiments got in the way and no one remembered to send the samples back to NASA.

Though more than forty years have passed, NASA has requested that the moon dust samples be returned to the space agency. In the meantime, however, NASA told Nelson that she could take the vials out of the vacuumed sealed jar for a closer look at the moon dust.

In addition to the moon dust samples, Nelson found a copy of the paper “Study of the carbon compounds in Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 returned lunar samples.” According to the laboratory, Melvin Calvin, a Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner and a former associate director of the Berkeley Lab, was one of the authors of the paper.

Nelson discovered the moon dust samples after being asked to clear some of Calvin’s equipment from the lab’s storage facility.