Such a tiny fraction of the massive Saturn V rocket returned home from each Apollo Moon mission that it's surprising what has survived over the years. One example is an odd artifact: the chuck used by Apollo 15 Mission Commander David Scott that was part of the Apollo Lunar Surface Drill used to burrow into the lunar soil to retrieve samples and place experiments. It's up for auction at RR Auction as part of its Autographs, Artifacts & Animation sale in Boston, Massachusetts, where it's expected to fetch US$50,000.

Built by Martin Marietta, the Apollo Surface Drill (PDF) was a major part of the 1971 Apollo 15 lunar EVA equipment package. The purpose of the one-man electric drill was to use tungsten carbide bits to cut 10 ft (3 m) deep into the lunar surface to place probes for the Heat Flow Experiment to measure the subsurface temperatures of the Moon at different times of day. In addition, it was used to take core samples for return to Earth for more detailed study by NASA's Lunar Lab.


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According to Colonel Scott, the chuck was used to secure the bore stems and core tubes to the drill. Unfortunately, the design of the drill, which was intended to be used by astronauts in spacesuits for a limited time in 1/6th gravity and a vacuum, proved less than ideal as soil particles tended to ride up the drill helix and jam the mechanism, so extracting the drill from the ground was more difficult than expected. Despite this, it did manage to help scientists gain a better understanding of the Moon's composition and stratigraphy.

""It's an essential artifact related to some of the most substantial and important lunar surface findings of the Apollo program," says Robert Livingston, Executive VP at RR Auction.

Apollo 15 took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 26, 1971, with Mission Commander David R. Scott, Command Module Pilot Alfred M. Worden, and Lunar Module Pilot James B. Irwin. Its objective was to study the mountainous area of Hadley Rille on the shores of Mare Imbrium.

The mission was notable for the first use of the Lunar Rover vehicle to carry astronauts on the lunar surface, placing a small satellite in lunar orbit, and returning the Genesis Rock, which turned out to be the then-oldest known rock ever found with an age of at least four billion years. The astronauts also left behind a plaque with the names of 14 astronauts and cosmonauts who had died in the conquest of space.

The Autographs, Artifacts & Animation from RR Auction runs through December 7.

Source: RR Auction

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