Lunar Samples Activity

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Students will be able to hold real lunar samples brought back by Apollo 17 with a check-out program through NASA. Using these samples as your guide, students will be able to personalize and understand the origin of our Moon.

Big Idea

Moon rocks - rock!

NGSS Background

This lesson is based on California's Middle School Integrated Model of NGSS.

MS-ESS1-1 Earth's Place in the Universe

PE: MS-ESS1-3 Analyze and Interpret data to determine scale properties of objects in the Solar System.

DCI: ESS1.B Earth and the Solar System - The Solar System consists of the Sun and a collection of objects including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the Sun by its gravitational pull on them.

SEP: (6) Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Students will use direct evidence from NASA supplied lunar samples to conclude that the Moon was produced by a collision between the Earth and a small Mars-sized planet.

CCC: (1) Patterns - Pattens found between the Moon rocks returned from the Apollo 17 Lunar Mission and rocks found on Earth signify that the Moon was created from ejected material from a collision in Earth's past.

This lesson is designed to bring real lunar samples into your classroom to help provide evidence that the Moon was created through a collision that the Earth suffered with a minor planet early on in it's history. The collision obliterated this small planet and ejected a large amount of crust material into orbit around the Earth. Eventually this orbiting material coalessed into the Moon we see today.

The bulk of the evidence for this theory lies in the similarity between Moon rocks and Earth rocks.The lunar samples are encased in bullet-proof acrylic and are not available for touch. The kit does come with simulant lunar samples that look and feel like the real thing. 

How To Reserve Lunar Samples

120 minutes

Lunar Samples can be reserved through the Lunar and Meteorite Disk Program of the through the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.

In order to be eligible for the program a teacher must attend a one day certification program held at one of NASA's field centers. After getting the phones numbers for various local centers I made a few phone calls to find a training center near me (Columbia Memorial Space Center). I discovered that many science museums also provide the training. The training program was easy and has no expiration. You basically learn how to handle the lunar samples which are encased in acrylic. The samples are considered priceless and need to be under your supervision at all times. Bridget Mcinturff-Burt is the current curator and is very helpful with any questions and in locating a local training center.

Once you have become trained you will need to complete the forms required to request the disks to be sent to your school.

LMDP Request Form Information

Lunar and Meteorite Disk Program Request Form

I reserve the lunar and meteorite disks before school starts (about 7 months in advance) and have no problem with the requested dates.

When the boxes arrive (I reserve both the lunar samples and the meteorite samples) cut open the outside paper tape and open the boxes. Do not discard the boxes. The boxes are used for returning the samples.

Note the paper tape surrounding the box. This is an important observation that will be explained when I describe returning the samples.

Student Activity

45 minutes

I tend to hype the arrive of the lunar samples by telling the kids that very few people will ever have the chance to see real lunar samples this close and in person. Needless to say, that when the samples do arrive my students are pretty excited. The excitement seems to wain a bit when they realize that the samples are encased in bulletproof acrylic. The samples I have been receiving for the past few years include lunar simulants (fakes) that match the chemical composition of the lunar samples, which the kids get excited about. These stimulants are not encased in acrylic and the students are able to touch them.

I let my kids take selfies with the simulanted lunar samples.

Students Examining Lunar Samples

We discuss the origin of the Moon and use the supplied lunar samples as evidence. I show How the Moon Was Born, which rather dramatically shows that the Moon was born from a collision between a smaller Mars-sized planet and Earth. The small planet was obliterated in the collision, and the ejected debris eventually reformed as the Moon. 

The evidence for this event is the similarities between Earth rocks and Moon rocks. I use the NASA samples as the evidence for this theory.


Sample Student Work

The activity calls on the students to draw a picture of how the Moon was created with a minimum of three colors, labels, page title, and a minimum of four sentences describing the picture.


How to Return Lunar Samples

120 minutes

The first time I had to return the lunar samples it was a colossal headache. Return postage and directions are included, but the process was not clear. The biggest problem turned out to the US Postal Service bureaucracy. The lunar samples MUST be sent through the US Mail and the rules pertaining to this are set by the post office. When I asked at my local post office the mail carriers behind the counter tried to be helpful, but didn't go much out of their way in explaining what to do or how to do it. What I learned was through trial and error.

Included in your package are these important materials - make sure you don’t lose them.

  • A mail label, stamped "Registered" for package return.

  • A meter strip that includes cost for postage and "special handling" for the return.

  • PS Form 3806 for return registration. 

The lunar samples must be packaged and taped with 'paper tape' covering all seams. I cut the paper tape into sections that are about 4 feet long.




I put the lunar samples back in their shipping boxes (don't discard) and wrap them with butcher paper from school, much like I was wrapping a Xmas present.

TIP: NASA provided shipping label and postage for the return trip. Don't forget to pull the label/postage out before you wrap them up. 



Once the packages are wrapped, use 4ft long strips of paper tape to cover the entire box. Use a wet sponge or a small bowl of water and wet the strips of paper tape and proceed to wrap the package with these stripes. Cover every exposed surface. I typically get the job started (see picture below) and let it dry overnight before I finish covering all exposed paper. Allow the paper tape 24hrs to dry. The next day you may need to repair any curled edges. It takes practice and I've gotten better each time. Affix the postage and the return address to the outside and take it to the post office.

When you are at the post office explain that the package is to be shipped 'Priority Registered Mail'. See Returning the Disks for specific information. The post office will use a special stamp, referred to as 'the round' and proceed to stamp every edge of the paper tape. This guarantees that the package cannot be tampered with unless the paper tape is damaged. Each year I've had to pay the difference in postage, usually less that $1.00.