NASA will study moon samples collected during Apollo missions that have been untouched in 50 years, the agency announced.

NASA said it has chosen nine teams, awarding them $8 million, to learn more about the samples gathered through the Apollo program, which launched in the 1960s.

“By studying these precious lunar samples for the first time, a new generation of scientists will help advance our understanding of our lunar neighbor and prepare for the next era of exploration of the Moon and beyond,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C., said in a statement released Monday.

Six of the nine teams will study a sample brought back to Earth vacuum-sealed on the moon by astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Gene Cernan during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, NASA said. Other samples the teams will study were either kept frozen or stored in helium.

The teams will work with NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to figure out the best way to avoid contamination when opening the samples.

“These samples were deliberately saved so we can take advantage of today’s more advanced and sophisticated technology to answer questions we didn’t know we needed to ask,” Lori Glaze, acting director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.

The teams will study the samples from a variety of different angles, from volcanic activity on the moon to how exposure to space affects its surface, said the agency.

On Monday, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine praised its agency’s 2020 fiscal budget set by President Donald Trump as “one of the strongest on record.” NASA will use its $21 billion budget to return to the moon in the next decade, as well as eventually visiting Mars.

“This time, when we go to the Moon, we will stay,” Bridenstine said in a statement. “We will use what we learn as we move forward to the Moon to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.”  

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.

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