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Moon Rocks and More at the Santa Monica College Planetarium Next Month

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica Convention and Visitors

By Jorge Casuso

July 19, 2019 -- What do you do with 842 pounds of moon rocks that have been locked in a vault for nearly 50 years?

The Santa Monica College John Drescher Planetarium next month will explain the challenges facing scientists as they study the stones that have been frozen or stored in helium since they were brought back by Apollo astronauts between 1969 and 1972.

"When Apollo 11 returned from the first lunar landing, a (slightly questionable) system of biological quarantine for the crew and the lunar samples was put into action," planetarium officials said.

Apollo 17 astronautposes in front of large Moon rock
Apollo 17 astronautposes in front of large Moon rock (Images courtesy of NASA)

"The system included the Houston isolation facility called the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, which operated until 1976, processing samples from all six Apollo landings."

“The Lunar Receiving Laboratory, or What to Do with a Load of Moon Rocks?” -- part of the planetariums 50-Year Retrospective of the mission that first landed a man on the moon -- will take place August 16 and 23.

The preserved samples are "a time capsule to the Moon’s past" that will be mined for information as NASA begins preparing for permanently inhabiting the Moon, agency officials said.

“These Moon rocks are a treasure, and the science we can do with them is a genuinely unique opportunity,” said Alexander Sehlke, a principal investigator for one of the nine research teams selected to analyze the rocks.

“My group is using just a little vial with a bit of dust in it, but it’s really exciting.”

Moon rack samples

Next month's shows kick off August 2 with “NASA Human Spaceflight Update,” which provides the latest news on the commercial crew carriers for transport to the International Space Station.

The show also looks into the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle that will return humans to the vicinity of the Moon to assemble the Lunar Gateway, "a small spaceship in orbit around the Moon that will provide access to more of the lunar surface than ever before," NASA said.

In addition, the show explores "public and private efforts, some of which could potentially render some of NASA’s plans moot," planetarium officials said.

On August 9, the planetarium presents the special observing event “The Straight Wall on the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn.”

The event offers a close-up look at a 9-day-old gibbous Moon and its Rupes Recta (“Straight Wall”) and terraced Copernicus crater, as well as the gas giant Jupiter and the rings of Saturn.

If clouds intervene, the program will stay in the planetarium with high-resolution images.

The feature shows and a telescope viewing session take place at 8 p.m. and are preceded at 7 p.m. by “The Night Sky Show,” which offers "the latest news in astronomy and space exploration, a family-friendly 'tour' of the constellations and answers to astronomy-related questions.

The John Drescher Planetarium, which features a Digistar projection system, is located near the elevators on the second floor of Drescher Hall, 1900 Pico Boulevard.

Tickets are available at the door and cost $11 ($9 seniors and children) for the evening’s scheduled “double bill," or $6 ($5 seniors age 60 and older and children age 12 and under) for a single show or telescope-viewing session.

For more information call (310) 434-3005 or visit All shows are subject to change or cancellation without notice.

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