It's been 40 years since the last Apollo mission, and this week NASA announced that findings from those missions continue to provide researchers with new insights into the the moon. Scientists at the National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC), NASA's archive for space science mission data, are currently restoring data from Apollo 14 and Apollo 15 dust detectors.
"This is the first look at the fully calibrated, digital dust data from the Apollo 14 and 15 missions," said David Williams, an NSSDC data specialist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
The digital data from the two missions' dust detectors has not been archived before, and NASA estimates that a year and a half of the data have never been studied. The new data can be used in a long-term analysis of the dust readings. The restoration of the data is part of the Lunar Data Project, a n effort to provide Apollo scientific data in modern formats.
The data was restored in a tedious manner, with an undergrad from the Florida Institute of Technology named Marie McBride going through data sets and separating raw detector counts from temperatures and other information. An incomplete second set of data then indicated how raw counts could be converted to usable measurements. The second data set had to be converted from microfilm, then synched up to the first set.
Though the state of the data may suggest it, scientists haven't abandoned their studies of lunar dust completely. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which launched in 2009, has taken lunar dust measurements. Next year's launch of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) will begin a new phase in studying the moon's dust.
"Just last week, LRO did some important measurements seeking dust profiles in the lunar atmosphere," said Rich Vondrak, the LRO deputy project scientist at Goddard.