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Moon rocks look rather nondescript—they are often gray in color—but for NASA planetary scientist Samuel Lawrence, they are the "most precious materials on Earth."
What is certain is that the lunar samples first gathered by Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong nearly 50 years ago have helped transform our understanding of the cosmos.
Apollo - Astronauts - Pounds - Kilograms - Rocks
Apollo astronauts collected 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of rocks and soil during their six missions to the Moon between 1969 and 1972 and brought it all back to Earth.
What happened to the Apollo goodwill moon rocks?
Moon - Rosetta - Stone - System - Lawrence
"The Moon is the Rosetta Stone of the solar system," Lawrence, who works at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in an interview with AFP. "It's the cornerstone of planetary science."
"People don't fully appreciate just how important studying the Apollo samples was for understanding the solar system and the universe around us," he said.
Discoveries - Science - Moon - Mercury - Mars
"Many of the discoveries that we've made in planetary science, not just on the Moon, but on Mercury, on Mars, on some of the asteroids, directly relate to some of the results that we obtained during the Apollo missions."
Studying Apollo rocks has given scientists an understanding of how the Moon was created, roughly at the same time as Earth some 4.3 to 4.4 billion years ago.
Debris - Years - Earth - Orbit - Moon
Debris spent the next several hundred million years coalescing in Earth orbit into the Moon we have today, explained Lawrence.
"We learned that the interior structure of the Moon is like the Earth," he said. "It has a crust, it has a mantle and it has a core."
Life - Earth - Moon
And while life evolved on Earth, "the Moon is lifeless," he said.
Several moon rocks are on display at the Johnson Space Center, where they attract hundreds of thousands of visitors...
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