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Geosciences Professor Reconstructs Data from Apollo Moon Missions

From 1969 to 1972, astronauts with NASA’s Apollo missions planted on the surface of the moon geophysical instruments that discovered moonquakes and measured the heat released from the interior of the moon.

The data beamed back to Earth by radio signal. Then in 1974, NASA cancelled most of the funding for the data analysis project.

However, that didn’t stop the data from collecting for another three years. Now, a Texas Tech University researcher is on a mission from NASA to piece together the long-forgotten data and finish the analysis.

Seiichi Nagihara, an associate professor in the Department of Geosciences, received a two-year, $45,000 research grant from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to help the center fully restore, digitally archive and reanalyze the data collected from the geothermal heat-flow instruments placed on the moon during Apollo 15 and 17.

Nagihara and the Goddard team hope to restore the full records of the Apollo heat flow experiments and use modern computers to reanalyze the data to better understand the moon’s internal structure.

That’s easier said than done, though, Nagihara said.

“Right now, it’s a detective story,” he said. “After 1974, NASA’s focus quickly shifted, and it seems that nobody there kept detailed records on who did what with the Apollo heat-flow data obtained from 1975 to 1977. The principal scientist who was involved in the original analysis did not use the data from these years, and he died more than 10 years ago. But, by reading old NASA documents and contacting the people who were involved in the Apollo missions, my collaborators at Goddard and I are tracking down the missing data. We have recovered some pieces of the data, but still have a long way to go.”

Nagihara is an expert in how the Earth releases its heat, which is why he is one of the researchers recruited to reanalyze the moon’s heat-flow data. Once he has found and compiled as much of the “lost” data as he can, he will try to determine why different areas of the moon give off different amounts of heat.

“On Earth, the plate tectonics explain a lot about why and how heat flow is different from one locality to another,” he said. “The moon has no plate tectonics. That makes it more challenging for me.”

Find Texas Tech news, experts and story ideas at

CONTACT: Seiichi Nagihara, associate professor, Department of Geosciences, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-3149, or

John Davis | Newswise Science News
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