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Lunar and Earth Rocks

The Apollo Lunar missions were an important part of man's exploration of space. During 6 of these missions astronauts walked on the Moon and collected rock and soil samples.

Rock Collecting - Lunar and Earth Rocks

Objectives -Overview

To acquaint students with various types of Earth rocks.
To learn more about the locations and geology of the six Apollo landing sites.
To learn how the astronauts collected soil and rock samples.
To compare the basic types of Earth rocks to those brought back from the Moon.
To make predictions about the origin of lunar rocks.

NETS Standards Categories supported 5, 6


1. Rock Collecting
Between 1969 and 1972 the six Apollo missions that landed astronauts on the Moon returned a collection of over 2,000 soil and rock samples that weighed 382 kilograms (842 pounds). (Related activity - graphing lunar samples.)

(If you want students to work independently, print out the rock collection sheet and have them use the Collecting Rocks page to guide them.)

• Have students visit the Rock Hounds site to see how rocks can be collected on Earth. At this site they can learn more about different rock types and tools used to collect samples on Earth. See Rock Hounds Project -

• The pressure suits worn by the Apollo astronauts restricted their mobility, particularly their ability to bend over, while on the Moon. For this reason, special tools were designed to allow them to collect rocks and soil for return to Earth. The design of these tools changed somewhat from mission to mission as experience was gained about what worked best. Look at how the Apollo astronauts collected their lunar samples by visiting the Collecting Moon Rocks page. Discover the types of tools used to collect the Moon rocks and samples. Have students answer questions such as:

Make a list of the tools the astronauts used. How do these compare to the tools used to collect rocks on Earth?
Briefly summarize the steps the astronauts used as they collected their samples.
How were the rocks transported back to Earth? Where were they placed during the return trip?

2. Collect Samples
• Examine rocks and soil samples that students collect from around the school or their homes. Have students display their samples on a tray or in an egg carton.

Direct students to collect soil samples from different areas around their school or community. Compare what you find in each sample. Label each sample as to where it was collected and the type of area. Note the differences in color, items in the sample (such as small stones or plant pieces, moisture, texture or feel, etc.)

The Moon is made of rocks and the lunar surface is covered with dust or a layer of fine broken-up powder about 1 to 20 meters deep. This is called the lunar soil. It appears to contain no water or plant life. How does this differ from the samples which students collected?

3. Label Samples
Research the basic types of Earth rocks and how they are formed. Compare the basic types of rocks found on Earth to ones students collected and identify them. Introduce students to the terms igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic and help them find out how each of these types were formed. See if they can use books to label their rock samples and identify them as one of these 3 types. You can help students find out about these types by visiting How Rock Were Formed at the Rock Hound site.

4. Now the Questions
Now tell them they will be trying to answer the following question: Which of these types that you found are similar to those which might be found on the Moon?

(All Moon rocks originated through high-temperature processes with little or no involvement with water. They are roughly divisible into three types: basalts, anorthosites, and breccias. Basalts are dark lava rocks that fill mare basins; they generally resemble, but are much older than, lavas that comprise the oceanic crust of Earth. Anorthosites are light rocks that form the ancient highlands; they generally resemble, but are much older than, the most ancient rocks on Earth. Breccias are composite rocks formed from all other rock types through crushing, mixing, and sintering during meteorite impacts. The Moon has no sandstones, shales, or limestones which are dependent on the water-borne processes on Earth.)


• Find out where the Moon rock and soil samples are today. The Moon Rock link will help you discover more about these samples. Visit the The Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility at Johnson Space Center

Geologic samples returned from the Moon by the Apollo lunar surface exploration missions (1969-1972), along with associated data records, are physically protected, environmentally preserved, and scientifically processed in a special building dedicated for that purpose at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Let students take a virtual Tour of the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility

Using an image map of facility the lab this site allows students to jump to an area of interest or go on a linear tour starting with the Change Room which explains how visitors would dress to actually visit.

• Apollo missions brought back many samples of soil from 6 different Moon areas. Find out more about the types of samples, especially the "orange soil" from Apollo 17.

• What have the Moon rocks helped us to discover or learn? Detailed information from the Moon rocks has helped scientists look at new ways to explain the formation of the Moon and led to the impact theory. This theory states that the Earth collided with a very large object (as big as Mars or even larger) and that the Moon formed from the ejected material. The impact theory is now widely accepted. See NASA's Top 10 Scientific Discoveries page for more.

Borrow real Lunar Rocks.
NASA will loan Moon rock sample discs to educators who have completed training to help them correctly use and protect these valuable resources. Find out how you can qualify. (This is a PDF file. You will need Acrobat Reader to open it.) More information can be found by contacting the NASA Educator Resource Center Network for your region.