UNM receives NASA grant to analyze moon samples

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M – NASA recently selected the University of New Mexico for a $7.5 million grant to explore our solar system, along with four other new research teams across the country.

“The grant will start probably in the fall of this year, and it’s funded for five years, so we will be looking for graduate students and undergraduates starting soon,” said Chip Shearer, Research Professor for UNM’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “Our group has been selected to do several things.”

The first, fundamental lunar research on samples brought back to earth by Artemis III, the return of humans to the moon for the first time in more than 50 years.

So that’s really exciting in itself,” Shearer said.

Second, UNM biologists and engineers will use the samples to learn how to potentially grow plants on the moon’s surface and build future settlements.

“Space has enormous resources in terms of material and energy, and we have no choice but expanding our horizon to do more space related research and make it livable,” said an Assistant Professor with the UNM Environmental Engineering Dept. Maryan Hojati.

UNM reps say NASA chose their university for its especially talented young scientists and crucial equipment.      

“This is our scanning electron microscope,” said Earth and Planetary Sciences PhD candidate Jessica Johnson, as she gave our KOB 4 crew a tour of the university facility. “It allows us to view materials, about the size of a human hair and even smaller.”

The machine will give scientists a close-up of lunar samples. Once they identify pieces they really want to focus on, Johnson said they will use their multi-million dollar transmission electron microscope for an even closer look.

“We can see structures and get compositions all the way down to the atomic scale, so it’s very exciting for this project—especially when we get soils back from the moon—we can actually look and see what is in them and be able to characterize them,” Johnson explained. “This instrument is state of the art. There are only about two or three of it in the world.”

Which makes New Mexico one of the top places for space exploration.

“It’s an exciting time to be involved in space,” Shearer said.

“This is a great opportunity that I’m very excited to be part of,” Hojati added.

Artemis III is scheduled to make its trip to the moon, with humans on board, by the end of 2025.