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February 07, 2013
Only about 400 kilograms of rocks, sand and dust from the moon's surface exist in the world, accumulated between 1969 and 1972 from lunar missions, Apollo 11 to 17.

Students crowd around Walt Charuba, center. Charuba, a sixth grade science teacher at Brownell Middle School, shared with his students a small sample of lunar rocks and soils on loan from NASA. Photo by Renee Landuyt
Brownell Middle School science teacher, Walt Charuba, was selected as one of nearly 30 people to receive a small sample of the lunar materials and, for a week in January, he showed off the samples with his sixth graders.

"It made me really tense," Charuba said of carrying around two bags, one with six samples of soils and rocks encapsulated in a six-inch diameter clear disk and the other with six samples of meteorites in a similar disk. Sample disk of rocks and soils included basalt, breccia, highland soil, anorthosite, mare soil and orange soil, while the meteorites were ALH90411, LEW87030, Allende, EET83227, Gibeon and Brenham. Charuba stored the samples at the police station each night, away from any potential theft.

Charuba applied for the samples after attending a NASA Triad Teacher Leadership Academy program in August, one of about 30 people to do so, and meeting NASA's certification requirements for borrowing the lunar and meteorite disks.

"The special certificate allows you to send in for the lunar samples," he said.

Included in NASA's lunar package was a disk of written and graphic descriptions of each sample, a CD of a PowerPoint presentation about the moon and a teacher's guide with additional printed and instructional materials.

All were educational games and resources to guide teachers in teaching students about explorations of the moon and other planets.

One such activity, in which groups of students each essentially planned a mission to Mars, proved most exciting and educational.

"We had to, like, build a ship or a rover to go on Mars and, like, search for life and take samples of the rocks and stuff like that," said Brady McCarron, a sixth grader in Charuba's science class. "We had to make our plans, our goals on what we wanted to do. We could say we wanted to land on Mars, we wanted to know the land forms on Mars, are volcanoes still active on Mars, why is it dusty and rocky up in the northern part of Mars."

From there, McCarron said, each group chose a booster, large enough and cost effective enough to lift the rocket while not placing the group over-budget, and a power source, which provided energy for the rocket.

They also bought landing systems and other instruments necessary for their mission, all while maintaining a budget.

"They all cost a certain amount and we had to keep it under $230 million," McCarron said, adding about the class' entire lunar experience, "it was cool. There's only 400 kilograms and we saw, like, one."

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