The Virtual Spaceman

Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene A. Cernan driving the Lunar Roving Vehicle (Image: NASA)

Back in 1968, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band released their greatest hit: I’m The Urban Spaceman. Having detailed what a cool guy he was, the final line of the song delivers this sting in the tail: “I’m the urban spaceman, baby; here comes the twist. I don’t exist”.

OK, so you can’t be an urban spaceman, but thanks to a collaboration between The Open University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and NASA, you can be a virtual spaceman. Here’s how….

From 1969 to 1972, six Apollo missions successfully collected approximately 2,200 separate lunar samples with a combined weight of 382 kilograms. A diverse range of Moon rocks were brought back by these missions, which have been the subject of intense scientific study over the intervening years.

All of the samples collected during the Apollo missions are kept in a purpose-built curatorial facility at the NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas. To provide an online introduction to the Moon rock collection, NASA curators have been working with the virtual microscope team at The Open University. The result is a carefully selected suite of 28 samples that can be examined just as if you were looking down a microscope in the laboratory. Rocks from all six of the Apollo landing sites can be viewed, with maps and photographs showing exactly where each specimen was collected.

The lunar virtual microscope brings the Apollo samples to life in a very special way. Not only does it give you a feel for the desolate terrain in which the lunar rocks were collected, but more importantly, it provides a unique insight into the beauty of these priceless extraterrestrial materials. The OU-NASA virtual microscope gives you the chance to become a virtual spaceman, and there’s no twist.

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