EZScience Episode 1 Exploring the Moon with Apollo

(gentle music) - Hi, I'm Ellen Stofan, or Dr. E. And I'm the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. - Hey, I'm Thomas Zurbuchen, also known as Dr. Z. I'm the Associate Administrator of Science at NASA. - So, together, we're "E.Z. Science", and in each episode, we're gonna be talking about what's the latest and greatest in space science? Really wanting to cover exciting topics, what's new, but also, what have we learned over these 50 years of space exploration? And what better place to start than with the anniversary of the landing on the Moon 50 years ago? - God, I'm so excited to be here, right here at the museum. I've been here many times looking at the exhibit of the Moon. I think it's one of my absolute favorites and my favorite museum in the world. - Yeah, it's an amazing place. And we do hold the Apollo collection for the nation, so it's amazing to be celebrating this 50th anniversary. - So, tell us about Apollo. What are your memories about Apollo? Your childhood memories? - So, I was eight years old the summer we landed on the Moon. And I remember it really well, partially 'cause my dad worked for NASA. So, we were obviously, sort of, paying attention to it probably more than most people. We were up at my grandparents' cottage on a lake in Michigan. And my clearest memory was going, at one point during the night, we went out onto the lake, and it was a fairly sizable lake. And you could hear the broadcast echoing all over the lake, because that night, you know, not just America stood still, but the world stood still to watch what humanity was accomplishing. Frankly, when they landed on the Moon, those really fuzzy images, and by that point, it was after 11 o'clock at night, and I was eight years old, I was really tired. So that part I remember a little less clearly. - Yeah, it's really amazing. I can only imagine. For me, Apollo has really changed my life. The university where I got my Ph.D. and was the university that, in a group, that was started because of the first experiment on the surface of the Moon, the solar wind experiment. The work I did afterwards was robotic exploration with NASA spacecraft as a followup of that experiment that was set up by Buzz Aldrin right after the landing. - You know, a lot of people throughout my career have said, what did we learn from all those Apollo moon rocks they brought back, one of which you can touch right here at the Air and Space Museum, what did we learn from all those Apollo rocks? For you, what are the big science takeaways from Apollo? - So, for me, what's really the most amazing is, I think, when I look at the Moon, and I do that every time I get a chance to. It's just amazing, this celestial neighbor of ours, looking at it. I think of it as kind of the archives of the earth and the solar system history. What we learn about is really the bombardment history of the solar system, but also, about really the relationship between the Earth and the Moon. But how 'bout you? - Well, you know, it's really that, going back to the fact that all those impact craters on the Moon that you see, those big, huge circles on the Moon, they're telling you at some point, all those bodies were also hitting the Earth and creating huge craters on the Earth, but with the Earth surface constantly changing over time, we've lost that early history of the Earth. So, we can go to the Moon and say, what was the Earth like four billion years ago? And really help to learn more about this planet. And of course, there are theories that the Moon originated, started out as a big chunk of the Earth that got knocked out by a very large impact early in Earth's history. So, understanding what was that lost chemistry, so to speak, of that chunk of the Earth that got removed is also really important for understanding this planet. - You know, one of the things that's been really amazing, these rocks that came back, one of the rocks you have right here, have really been a source of science even to today. Early next year, we're opening up one of the Apollo cores that we've never opened up. And there's still a lot of science we're learning. What are the most, kind of, recent science results that are exciting to you? - You know, a lot of it really does have to do with this history of the Moon and what it's telling us about the long-term history of the Earth, but for a lot of us who really care about how we move humans out into the solar system, we think about things like, could there be ice on the Moon? Could there be any ice deposits that future astronauts could maybe access? And so, the fact that, over the last, about, decade, with various instruments, we've actually been figuring out there are ice deposits on the Moon. There's ice in the lunar soil. There could be, actually, larger ice deposits in permanently-shadowed craters that are at the poles of the Moon. And so, this idea of water on the Moon, which certainly, at Apollo, we didn't think that was possible, we've really learned in the last decade. And again, why that's important is for one thing, that water is probably cometary ice. And we're interested in comets, 'cause they helped form the Earth, but we're also really interested in using it potentially as a resource. - And of course, that's why, as early as 2020, we're going back with robots, initially in kind of an equatorial region, but soon enough to the polar regions, and then as early as '24, with humans to the very same region, because the resources are right there. Those water resources, we think, from remote sensing, are right there. - So, what are all the missions that are going on right now? I know there's a lot going on right now. In fact, there's so much going on, I can barely keep track of it. I know you just recently announced a bunch of ideas of missions going back to the Moon. - So, what's really exciting to me, besides the Moon being a really important science target, it's also a way station to Mars. What we're really doing right now is we're develop technology instruments. And right now, we're working on 28 science instruments and tech demonstrations. - 28? - And the way we're flying them there is using commercial partners. So, we can do that. We can use a very different development paradigm for that, but of course, in parallel, our colleagues from human exploration are developing the systems both to get, with a big rocket, off the surface of the Earth, but also then, this small gateway, kind of a small station that is there, really, as a place to learn to live away from Earth gravity, learn to live away from the Earth magnetic field. And then, to the surface with commercial partners. - So, I love this idea that we have this huge legacy of Apollo that's really carried us forward from all the science we learned from Apollo early on to the new science we're doing at the Moon, a lot of it helping us not understand more about this planet but also where we go next. And it's gonna be that stepping stone to exploring the rest of our solar system. - I really believe that's one of the most important aspects for Apollo for me. It shows that we can do these things. We go beyond. Yes, the Moon is there. Yes, we're celebrating it. But our aspirations are beyond. We can't wait to have the United States on the surface with our international and commercial partners on the surface of Mars. We can't wait to see Dragonfly, this new mission, that we just selected to go to Titan. What are the most exciting things for you on the outside of the Moon? - Yeah, for me, it's really getting humans to Mars, breaking open that bright rock, and finding out did life evolve on the red planet? And what can we learn from that about how life evolved here? And then, going out to those moons in the outer solar system, Titan, Enceladus, Europa, and really searching to say, is there life beyond Earth? There's so much going on. - We're just about out of time, unfortunately. Really enjoying talking to you. - This has been really fun, but in future episodes, what we'd like to do is to have you send us your questions. So, contact us on social media, on Twitter, on Facebook, and let us know what you would like to learn about. - So, we'll see each other again at the next "E.Z. Science". - "E.Z. Science". (gentle music)