Research scientist lives out his boyhood dream

SWRI analyzing lunar dust collected by Apollo 11

SAN ANTONIO – Fifty years after Apollo 11 left for the moon, more has yet to be learned from lunar samples on loan from the Johnson Space Center to Southwest Research Institute.

Ed Patrick, senior research scientist at SWRI, said the Apollo 11 landing is "probably more than any other event responsible for where I am today."

Patrick said before astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first two men to walk on the moon, boarded the lunar lander, they shoveled dust into a box of moon rocks to keep them from rattling around on the trip back to Earth.

“In a way, you can call this the world’s first interplanetary packing peanuts,” Patrick said.

He said the samples have the density of “dust bunnies, cosmic dust bunnies.”

Patrick is analyzing a small sample in the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory to see how its gases interact.

He said it’s only about eight grams, less than two teaspoons, but those “cosmic dust bunnies” are considered priceless lunar resources.

Patrick said the lunar mission that he watched as a 10-year-old boy, which inspired his career choice, could still yield vital information about the moon’s composition so that someday it could sustain life.

“The lunar surface is actually a bit more mysterious and interesting, maybe, than we might have assumed half a century ago,” Patrick said.

He said Apollo 11 was an amazing achievement given technology then is nowhere what it is today.

“The computer in your cellphone is more powerful than what Neil Armstrong had to pilot his spacecraft,” Patrick said. “Just imagine what we can do today with technology 50 years newer.”

About the Authors: