One Small Step for Man…One Giant Leap for Sample Collecting


Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 blasted off from Cape Canaveral. Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins were the astronauts who manned this mission. Four days later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. On July 20, 2019, it will have been 50 years since these two extraordinary men stepped onto the moon.

I don’t know about you, but my first thought of Apollo 11 is the powerful picture of Neil Armstrong saluting the American flag as he’s standing on the moon. While placing the flag on the moon was an extremely significant part of the mission, it wasn’t the first or only thing the Astronauts did when they left the spacecraft. They also planned several surface activities including sample collecting. They collected the moon’s dust (soil) and rock samples, worked on several experiments, and studied and took images of the lunar surface. This activity outside of the spacecraft lasted approximately 2.5 hours and during this time all scientific activities were satisfactorily completed, instruments were deployed, and samples were collected.1

Contingency sampling

The first priority for the Astronauts was to get a sample of lunar surface material. This sample was collected and stored on the spacecraft to ensure that, if the astronauts needed to abort their surface activities, samples from the Moon could be returned to Earth. This sample was collected immediately northwest of the lunar module. Sample collection took about 3.5 minutes.2

Bulk sampling

A bulk sample was also collected. It took about 14 minutes. About 23 scoops were taken and sealed in one of the sample return containers for return to Earth. This activity required more time than anticipated because the assembly table for packing the samples was in deep shadow.3

Additional sampling (documented samples)

The samples taken of the lunar surface were supposed to be documented through photographs and Astronaut commentary prior to being removed from the lunar surface. Unfortunately, time did not permit this part of the sample collection. Instead, this time was used to collect approximately 20 selected “grab samples” from three different areas near the lunar module. Two core tube samples were also taken. It took almost 6 minutes to obtain these samples because there was difficulty in penetrating the lunar surface.4

What are grab samples?

Grab samples are used in environmental testing and is a sampling technique for waters and soils. Grab samples are simple scoops of the area being sampled—the lunar surface in this case. This type of sample is collected at a particular time and place that represents only the composition of the source at that time and place. This involved manual sampling and minimal equipment. There was some difficulty in penetrating the lunar surface and it took almost 6 minutes to obtain these samples.

You may need to grab samples yourself. I’m pretty confident you won’t be heading to the moon to collect your samples, but there’s a good chance you may have sampling needs for your Earthly projects. We can help. Browse our complete line of samplers, sampling containers and sampling bags.


1,2,3,4:  “Apollo 11 Mission.” Lunar and Planetary Institute. Accessed July 17, 2019.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

A special thank you to Michael Bechtold, Product Manager, Environmental Express for his creative guidance on this topic.

Be the first to comment on "One Small Step for Man…One Giant Leap for Sample Collecting"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: