NASA is exploring the next frontier of space research and it’s pulling teams of scientists from all over together, including a team from the University of New Mexico.

UNM is one of nine teams picked by NASA to study untouched moon samples collected in the Apollo 17 mission almost 50 years ago.

Dr. Charles “Chip” Shearer, a senior research scientist at UNM’s Institute of Meteoritics, and a research professor at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, is leading the team. He says humans will go back to the moon in the 2020s and these findings can impact how we go back.

“If these samples reveal the volatile characteristics of the moon and other characteristics of the lunar soil, that could mean humans go there and essentially live off the land if you will,” said Shearer.

The UNM team will also represent scientists from Johnson Space Center and the European Space Agency. They will soon head to Johnson Space Center in Houston to begin their studies.

“At the very first stages, we’re going to open these samples and look to see what sort of gasses may be preserved in these samples,” said Shearer.

Shearer says this chance to work with other scientists and Apollo 17 astronauts is an incredible opportunity for UNM students and the school.

“UNM was selected because we had put together an outstanding team,” said Shearer. “What this does for UNM, at first, allows our students, the future generation of planetary scientists, to link in and work with these first explorers.”

The UNM team will also work alongside Harrison Schmitt, one of the Apollo 17 astronauts who collected this sample on the moon in 1972.

A total of $8 million has been awarded to the nine teams to conduct this research.