The Long Journey of our Lunar Touchrock

Posted on Thu, June 16, 2016

One of our most enduring and popular exhibits has been a piece of the Moon that you can touch. The rock, on loan from NASA, is one of only a few touchable lunar sample displays in the world. In fact, it was the very first touchable Moon rock exhibit when it opened to the public in 1976.

<p>Visitors can touch a rock from the Moon in the <em>Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall</em> at the National Air and Space Musuem in Washington, DC. Four other lunar samples are on display at the Museum.</p>

Today, other touchable lunar rock displays can be found at the Kennedy Space Center, Space Center Houston, the Museum of Science of the National Autonomous University in Mexico City, and the MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver, Canada.

Our touchrock is a slice from a rock collected in December 1972 on the Apollo 17 mission. Apollo 17 landed in the Taurus-Littrow Valley on the edge of Mare Serenitatis (the Sea of Serenity).

<p>Apollo 17 site</p>

<p>The Apollo 17 landing site. Top: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University, Bottom: NASA</p>

Astronauts Harrison “Jack” Schmitt and Eugene Cernan brought back over 740 individual rock and soil samples and the touchrock was cut from the largest rock they gathered. Weighing in at 8 kilograms (18 pounds), it was collected at the end of their last traverse. Jack Schmitt, the only geologist who journeyed to the Moon, had noticed it earlier since it was large and located near the Lunar Module. But because of its size, he left it to pick up later.

The touchrock is a type of rock called basalt. It is a fine-grained, dark-colored, igneous rock rich in iron, magnesium, and plagioclase feldspar, a common rock-forming mineral on Earth. Like many lunar basalts, the touchrock contains more titanium than normal Earth basalts.

<p>Lunar breccias are fragmental rocks. This sample consists of fragments of glass, minerals, and rock cemented together in a glassy matrix.</p>

Our little Moon rock has had quite a journey. It formed 3.8 billion years ago in hot lava that poured out onto the terrain. Then, 100 million to 125 million years ago it was exposed on the surface, probably by a crater impact. In 1972, a geologist picked it up and brought it back to Earth. Finally, it found a home in the Museum in 1976. This July, with the opening of our new Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, the touchrock will receive a newly designed display right next to the Lunar Module (LM-2).

If you get a chance to visit the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, be sure to take to moment to touch a piece of another world.

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