Texas Tech Geosciences Professor Reconstructs Data from Apollo Moon Missions
February 25, 2010
By: John Davis
A Texas Tech University researcher is on a mission from NASA to piece together the
long-forgotten data and finish the analysis.
From 1969 to 1972, astronauts with NASA’s Apollo missions planted on the surface
of the moon geophysical instruments that discovered moonquakes and measured the heat
released from the interior of the moon.
The data beamed back to Earth by radio signal. Then in 1974, NASA cancelled most of
the funding for the data analysis project.
However, that didn’t stop the data from collecting for another three years. Now, a
Texas Tech University researcher is on a mission from NASA to piece together the long-forgotten
data and finish the analysis.
Seiichi Nagihara, an associate professor in the Department of Geosciences, received
a two-year, $45,000 research grant from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to help
the center fully restore, digitally archive and reanalyze the data collected from
the geothermal heat-flow instruments placed on the moon during Apollo 15 and 17.
Nagihara and the Goddard team hope to restore the full records of the Apollo heat
flow experiments and use modern computers to reanalyze the data to better understand
the moon’s internal structure.
That’s easier said than done, though, Nagihara said.
“Right now, it’s a detective story,” he said. “After 1974, NASA’s focus quickly shifted,
and it seems that nobody there kept detailed records on who did what with the Apollo
heat-flow data obtained from 1975 to 1977. The principal scientist who was involved
in the original analysis did not use the data from these years, and he died more than
10 years ago. But, by reading old NASA documents and contacting the people who were
involved in the Apollo missions, my collaborators at Goddard and I are tracking down
the missing data. We have recovered some pieces of the data, but still have a long
way to go.”
Nagihara is an expert in how the Earth releases its heat, which is why he is one of
the researchers recruited to reanalyze the moon’s heat-flow data. Once he has found
and compiled as much of the “lost” data as he can, he will try to determine why different
areas of the moon give off different amounts of heat.
“On Earth, the plate tectonics explain a lot about why and how heat flow is different
from one locality to another,” he said. “The moon has no plate tectonics. That makes
it more challenging for me.”
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CONTACT: Seiichi Nagihara, associate professor, Department of Geosciences, Texas Tech
(806) 742-3149, or firstname.lastname@example.org.