National

Moon rocks exhilarating for Aust scientist

By AAP Newswire

For Australian scientist Ross Taylor, leading the NASA team who first analysed the moon rocks collected by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin was the exhilarating opportunity of a lifetime.

Working under tight security around the clock at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, the team wore bulky gloves to analyse samples held in sealed boxes.

"I often worked from 7am until 3am the following day to deliver results to daily press conferences, such was the huge level of interest globally in our findings," Professor Taylor recalled, 50 years after the first landing on the moon.

"Any error in the analysis would have ruined my reputation," the 93-year-old said in a statement released by the Australian National University on Friday.

"Only moments before one press conference I realised we had made a big mistake and corrected it - just in the nick of time.

"It was an exhilarating time to be a scientist."

At one point, the geochemist hid in a toilet to avoid being quarantined when a container split in the laboratory.

"I hid in a lavatory to avoid the professional isolation from the rocks I was working on.

"My heart was racing that day, I can assure you."

Prof Taylor and three other ANU researchers - Bill Compston, Ted Ringwood and John Lovering - were part of the international team of scientists who analysed the rocks collected from the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

ANU scientist Trevor Ireland is one of the space rock experts who continue to analyse samples brought back by the six Apollo missions that landed on the moon, which he described as one of the greatest achievements in history.

"To this day, we continue to analyse the Apollo lunar rocks and they still have surprises for us," Prof Ireland said in the statement.

"Everyone knows about Australia's role in relaying live television of the first steps on the moon, but the work that these ANU scientists did is one of the other great Australian stories from the moon landing 50 years ago that people may have never heard before."

Prof Ireland said the lunar rocks debunked any notion the moon landing was faked.

"Any attempt to make moon rocks in a laboratory would be a monumental failure and likely cost more money than it took NASA to get to the moon and back," he said.

"The lunar soil is like nothing we have seen before on earth.

"It is the result of eons of bombardment on the surface of the moon.

"The rocks have compositions that are unique to the moon."