PHOTOS: Moon rock samples sealed since Apollo missions

Collected during Apollo 17, a 3.5 billion year old basalt rock known as "The Children of the World" or "The Goodwill Sample" is displayed in the lunar lab at the NASA Johnson Space Center Monday, June 17, 2019, in Houston. It was used for to make samples that were gifted to every country on earth. (Photo: Michael Wyke/AP)

Inside a locked vault at Johnson Space Center is treasure few have seen and fewer have touched.

The restricted lab is home to hundreds of pounds of moon rocks collected by Apollo astronauts close to a half-century ago. And for the first time in decades, NASA is about to open some of the pristine samples and let geologists take a crack at them with 21st-century technology.

What better way to mark this summer's 50th anniversary of humanity's first footsteps on the moon than by sharing a bit of the lunar loot.

With the golden anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's feat fast approaching — their lunar module Eagle landed July 20, 1969, on the Sea of Tranquility — the moon is red-hot again.

After decades of flip-flopping between the moon and Mars as the next big astronaut destination, NASA aims to put astronauts on the lunar surface again by 2024 at the White House's direction. President Donald Trump prefers talking up Mars. But the consensus is that the moon is a crucial proving ground given its relative proximity to home — 240,000 miles (386,000 kilometers) or two to three days away. (AP)

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A stainless steel bin is opened to show individually tagged and sealed lunar samples collected during Apollo 16 inside a pressurized nitrogen-filled case holding the samples from that mission in the lunar lab of the NASA Johnson Space Center Monday, June 17, 2019, in Houston. (Photo: Michael Wyke/AP)
Ryan Zeigler, Apollo sample curator, left, stands next to a nitrogen-filled case displaying various lunar samples collected during Apollo missions 15, 16 and 17, inside the lunar lab at the NASA Johnson Space Center Monday, June 17, 2019, in Houston. (Photo: Michael Wyke/AP)
A regolith breccia rock of sintered lunar soil, dating 3.2 billion years old and collected by Apollo 15, is displayed in a pressurized nitrogen-filled case inside the lunar lab at the NASA Johnson Space Center Monday, June 17, 2019, in Houston. (Photo: Michael Wyke/AP)
Lacey Costello, Apollo sample curation processor, talks about her job examining lunar samples inside the lunar lab at the NASA Johnson Space Center Monday, June 17, 2019, in Houston. (Photo: Michael Wyke/AP)
Collected during Apollo 15, a 3.5 billion years old basalt rock similar to rocks formed around Hawaii, is displayed in a pressurized nitrogen-filled examination case inside the lunar lab at the NASA Johnson Space Center Monday, June 17, 2019, in Houston. For the first time in decades, NASA is about to open some of the pristine samples and let geologists take a crack at them with 21st-century technology. (Photo: Michael Wyke/AP)
Jeremy Kent, Apollo curation processor, works with lunar samples within a sealed, nitrogen-pressurized examination case inside the lunar lab at the NASA Johnson Space Center Monday, June 17, 2019, in Houston. The samples are always kept inside a nitrogen environment to prevent decay and degradation, even as they are moved between the lab and the storage vault. (Photo: Michael Wyke/AP)
Two separate 2 inch foil pans hold lunar dirt, from the last shovel full collected by Neil Armstrong on the Apollo 11, in the lunar lab at the NASA Johnson Space Center Monday, June 17, 2019, in Houston. (Photo: Michael Wyke/AP)
Jeremy Kent, Apollo sample curation processor, tugs to open the 1978 U.S. federal bank vault that protects the entrance to the lunar sample vault inside the lunar lab at the NASA Johnson Space Center Monday, June 17, 2019, in Houston. The door requires two separate combinations, held by two separate people, to open. (Photo: Michael Wyke/AP)
Collected during Apollo 16, an anorthosite sample believed to be the oldest rock collected during the moon missions is displayed in the lunar lab at the NASA Johnson Space Center Monday, June 17, 2019, in Houston. Scientists also believe it to be from the original crust of the moon just after it cooled. (Photo: Michael Wyke/AP)
The Genesis Rock, foreground, a 4.4 billion year old anorthosite rock, approximately 2 inches in length, brought back by Apollo 15 and used to determine the moon was formed by a giant impact, sits under glass inside a pressurized nitrogen-filled examination case as Lacey Costello, an Apollo sample curation processor, works with other samples on the outside of the case inside the lunar lab at the NASA Johnson Space Center Monday, June 17, 2019, in Houston. (Photo: Michael Wyke/AP)
The "Genesis Rock," a 4.4 billion-year-old anorthosite sample approximately 2 inches in length, brought back by Apollo 15 and used to determine the moon was formed by a giant impact, is lit inside a pressurized nitrogen-filled examination case in the lunar lab at the NASA Johnson Space Center Monday, June 17, 2019, in Houston. (Photo: Michael Wyke/AP)
Pressurized nitrogen-filled cases hold lunar samples collected from Apollo 11, left, and Apollo 12, right, with NASA's Apollo sample curator Ryan Zeigler in the background, inside the lunar sample vault in the lunar lab at the NASA Johnson Space Center Monday, June 17, 2019, in Houston. The restricted lab is home to hundreds of pounds of moon rocks collected by Apollo astronauts close to a half-century ago. (Photo: Michael Wyke/AP)

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