Apollo Discussions > The Reality of Apollo

Sample bags


Peter B:
Are there any illustrations of the small sample bags used to hold lunar samples?

I've found a couple of pictures of a stack of them in a bundle, but that's not quite what I'm looking for.

I'm curious to see the process used to seal them up. From the ALSJ I have a vague memory of some astronauts using the term "zeeing" to describe the sealing process, and I understand the process involved rolling down the top of the bag and then twisting a metal wire around the top of the bag in the shape of a 'Z' (hence the term) to hold it in place. But I'd like to know if there are any photos or video of this process.

Thank you!

Hi Peter B.

The Catalog of Apollo Lunar Surface Geological Sampling Tools and Containers by Judith Haley Allton (Lockheed Engineering and Science Company – NASA Johnson Space Center Document JSC-23454) might show what you want on pages 52 to 56, "Documented Sample Bag"

Some of the scans are fairly small and there are many links to click on.

Note that Documented Sample Bags must not be confused with the Sample Collection Bags (SCB) in which they were placed.

Edited to add: Thanks to fellow member Onebigmonkey in this post,
here's the link to the full catalog:

Below are a few descriptions from the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal of the bags being used, along with some other interesting bits such as Jack Schmitt's delightful Twinkletoes episode, and the final quote which might get the odd hoax-believer going regarding Jack and Gene's "discussion" about oil change, transmission and tires on the lunar rover.  :)

Apollo 15

144:01:21 Scott: Yeah, let's get a good bag full. (To Joe, while Jim gets a second scoopful of soil) Okay, Joe. It's very fine, light gray; the rim is. Very fine. (Pause) There. Can you hold this one, and I'll "Z" the other one. (Pause)
[Dave comes down to Jim and gives him sample bag 163. The sample bags have a metal strip running across the top, with tabs on either end. To seal the bag, Dave folds one tab across each side in a Z-like pattern. Figure 82 in Judy Allton's Apollo Tool Book shows tabs at the tops of the bags ]

Apollo 17

121:16:11 Schmitt: (Sample) bag 174...(correcting himself) 474 (is) soil from next to this big rock. It's the fillet. I can't get a chunk of the rock.
[Here, Jack is using one of the flat sample bags, suggesting that, although the checklist calls for Gene to mount packs of bags on the cameras during the upcoming geo-prep period, Jack already has a pack on his camera. At 121:26:54, he indicates that he had mounted a pack on his camera sometime prior to that time. Jack takes a stereopair of this sample location, AS17-136-20718 and 20719.]
[Schmitt - "The sample bags were reasonably clear Teflon, with a little metal double-spring that held the lip open a little bit. They also had tabs on either end, and what you could do was push against those tabs to open it up even more, get your sample in it, and then pull them closed and then twist the tabs down. It wasn't a vacuum seal but it wasn't a bad mechanical seal to keep the sample from falling out."]

121:26:54 Cernan: Okay. (Reading CDR-24) "Mount 20-bag dispenser (from) SCB 1." Let me get at them.
121:26:57 Schmitt: I've got mine on.
[The sample bags come in bundles of twenty which are hung from hooks at the bottom of the 70-mm cameras. That way, the bags were always in easy reach. The sample bags have been stowed in Sample Collection Bag (SCB) number one. The SCBs are much larger bags made of laminated Teflon cloth and are each 42 cm high, 22 cm wide, and 15 cm deep. Each of the astronauts will wear one on his PLSS. After a sample is sealed in one of the small, clear Teflon bags, they will put it in one or the other of the SCBs. Gene swings the gate closed; from the perspective of the TV camera, the top of it is about level with the top of his helmet.]

122:13:38 Cernan: Okay, you want my bag (that is, does Jack need to get at Gene's SCB)? (Pause) I tell you, if you work on any kind of slope, like this little crater...(Pause)
[Jack opens Gene's SCB and puts the sample bag in it.]
[Cernan - "Early in training, we learned from working together that when the other guy is wrapping up a sample, you should turn your back and lean over so that he can drop the sample in the SCB. If you just walk away to do something else, he's left standing there with his hands full. The reason you have to lean over is mostly because the suit makes it difficult to reach up very high. Now, Jack isn't the tallest guy in the world, but the suit made it even harder for him. You just can't get your hand much above your shoulder unless you rotate your body to the side."]
[Schmitt - "Once we got into operational training, we'd wear backpacks with SCB's even when we weren't wearing suits; and it quickly became second nature, a part of the routine, to turn and bend over so the guy wrapping the sample could put it in your bag."]
122:14:00 Schmitt: Okay, I'm going to leave it (Gene's SCB) open for a minute.

142:57:44 Schmitt: (To Bob) Okay. The first rock was from about...(Sample number) 514 was from a meter above the base of the rock; 515 is from about a meter and a half.
[Schmitt - "I'm sure that the sample bag system evolved with time but, by the time we flew 15, we had a standard Teflon bag with the little metal strip in it; and they were all pre-numbered. We didn't try to take them out in sequence. They were on dispensers in sequence but, as I recall, we didn't worry about getting dispenser 1, dispenser 2, dispenser 3. You didn't have to; once you had the number of a sample, they could find it. In thinking more about it, Neil (Armstrong) went out and just tried to get as many different kinds of rocks as he could and put them in a bag; I bet you we didn't have individual bags on 11. On Apollo 12, though, I suspect that we did (true), because we knew they were going to move around more."]
["The metal strip was sealed into the upper hem of the bag in such a way that, when you took a bag off the holder it would spring open a little bit. But I think we had to squeeze in on the ends so that it would open even more. Then, when you had the sample in the bag, you folded the metal strip to provide a mechanical seal."]
142:57:54 Schmitt: Here, can I get this in your (SCB)...(Pause) Can you get some on either side of those two now?

144:50:29 Schmitt: Okay, that little set of four samples is in 527, barely.
144:50:36 Parker: Okay, we hope it was worth the effort.
144:50:43 Schmitt: Oh, it's all worth the effort; it just hurts (the hands).
[Jack goes to the SCB.]
144:50:46 Parker: Okay. We're ready now for your pan and don't forget your scoop.
144:50:52 Schmitt: I won't...Aaaahh! (Pause)
[Jack has knocked the SCB over, scattering full sample bags. He drops to his hands and knees, facing upslope, gets the SCB standing upright, retrieves the sample bags, and stows them in the SCB without getting up.]
144:51:05 Schmitt: You don't mind a little dirt here and there, do you, gang? (Pause)
144:51:16 Parker: No. (Long Pause)
[Jack leans back to get his PLSS over his heels and kicks upright. He makes it, but drops the SCB in the process. He goes to one knee to retrieve it but stumbles and falls on his chest. He gets up successfully and goes to the scoop.]
144:51:46 Cernan: Oh, dadgummit! (Pause) Well...
[From later evidence, Gene is having trouble re-attaching the rake to the extension handle. Meanwhile, Jack's unused sample bags have fallen off his camera again.]
144:51:53 Parker: Hey, Gene, would you go over and help Twinkletoes, please?
[Jack drops the SCB on the ground.]
144:52:01 Schmitt: I tell you, you fix that camera bracket so the bags stay on and I'll be a lot better off.

148:16:54 Cernan: Oh, boy! (Pause)
148:17:02 Schmitt: (The wrist ring is) starting to get a little stiff.
148:17:03 Cernan: Oh, they came off. Now, they came off. (Relieved to have the gloves off) Oh, ho, ho, ho.
[Cernan - "By the time the mission was all over, my hands were nothing but blisters. The skin on my knuckles was gone. Inside the glove, all the knuckle points were constantly scraping and, although they hurt, I guess I didn't let it bother me when we were on the surface. Your hands are so vital to everything you do that the gloves were custom fit; but we still ran into these problems. We got down to blue-collar work and you couldn't design everything for the convenience of the astronaut. On the Shuttle, I think, a lot of the equipment they're using in the Payload Bay EVA's are big things that you can hold on to. They don't have Rover breakers to pull, and sample bags to twist, and core caps to put on, and drills to run, and cores to jack out of the ground. If you went through the kind of things we did, your hands would probably get tired even if you didn't have gloves, if you didn't have to work against the pressure of the suit, if your knuckles didn't rub on the inside of the glove, if you didn't have to work with all of the layers covering your hand and your fingers, if you didn't have to work with your fingertips covered with RTV. Even if you took all of that away, if you look at all the work we did during those three EVA's, you would probably end up with your hands fairly tired anyway. How long can you grip a hammer and beat on a core tube and chip rocks even without gloves?"]
148:17:09 Cernan: Okay. Doff helmets, with visors. (Pause) Here; I'll get yours for you. Turn my way, if you can. (Pause)

165:05:51 Cernan: (Holding the sample bag) It's in bag 312, Bob.
165:05:53 Parker: Copy 312.
165:05:56 Schmitt: And it's...It's from...I think you saw where I got it. It's about a half a meter back of the limit of the overhang. (To Gene) Put it (the sample bag) down. Put it (lower) down.
[Gene is holding the bag while Jack tries to pour in soil from the scoop, a difficult operation because of the stiff suit arms. Jack wants him to hold the bag lower to make the pouring easier.]
[Cernan - "I wasn't holding it in a way to make it difficult for him, it was just suit restriction. You seek out the most convenient and least restrictive positions while reaching out far enough and low enough. From his point of view, it would have been most convenient if I got down on my knees and held the bag, but only if I could have stayed there for ten minutes. But you take a sample and then you move ten feet; you take another sample and then you move again. So, unless he's going to go back and forth, you have to move together and you both have to be on your feet. It's a compromise."]
165:06:08 Cernan: Okay. Can you reach it?
165:06:10 Schmitt: I will in a minute. You can turn it a little bit towards me. (Pause)

165:30:26 Cernan: I didn't think they could see me. I'm way up on top! (Pause)
[While Jack examines the bagged sample, Gene hops into view from behind Fragment 2. Jack seals the sample bag by grasping the ends of the metal sealing strip, flipping the bag over it, and then folding in the ends of the strips.]
165:30:33 Schmitt: And it's blue-gray with light colored...

168:10:11 Schmitt: (Presenting his SCB) Let me get over here. (Pause) You're going to step on your gnomon there.
168:10:15 Cernan: Oh, I wouldn't step on my gnomon. I'm going to get this one crimped.
[Gene seals this sample bag by twisting the tabs, rather than flipping the bag.]
168:10:24 Schmitt: Okay. (To Bob) There, very clearly, is a central mound. And now that we've looked at this one, the mound looks like it's composed of gray fragment breccias much like what we've just sampled...
168:10:37 Cernan: Stay still.
168:10:38 Schmitt: ...Dark gray. And again it might be related...

69:15:07 Schmitt: Okay. I am now...I'd hate to get run over this late in the game. (Pause) Well, now, what did I do that for?
169:15:18 Cernan: (Laughing) What did you do? Kick it under?
169:15:20 Schmitt: Yeah. (Pause)
[Schmitt - "It's a classic, old comedy routine. You start to pick something up and you kick it out ahead of you."]
169:15:29 Schmitt: (Kneeling beside the Rover) Need your oil changed?
169:15:31 Cernan: Yeah. While you're under there, (laughing) would you check my transmission, please?
169:15:35 Schmitt: (Laughing)
169:15:37 Cernan: (Laughing) Any bubbles on the inside of the tires?
169:15:40 Schmitt: (Hearty laugh)
169:15:43 Cernan: Okay. Have you got it?
169:15:45 Schmitt: Yeah, I got it. Hey, Bob. I got my rock! It's halfway between the SEP and the LM. (To Gene, who has started to drive away) Wait, wait! Let me put it in the big bag. (Pause) It's in the big bag (garbled)...
[As described at 169:46:26, pieces of this rock were later put on public display and are the only pieces of the Moon that the public has ever been allowed to touch.]
169:15:58 Parker: Is this that brown one you saw out here before, Jack?

Two gems from the Apollo 16 EVAs.

To make sense of the ground elapsed times:
EVA 1 – 118:53:38 to 126:04:40
EVA 2 – 142:39:35 to 150:02:44
EVA 3 – 165:31:28 to 171:11:31

--- Quote ---122:47:28 Duke: Okay. This white rock that I picked up is in bag 373.

122:47:33 England: Okay, 373.

[Fendell finds Charlie at the back of the Rover. He is holding an individual sample bag with the tabs between the thumb and forefinger of either hand. He spins the bags several times around the axis formed by the stiffening wire in the top of the bag.]

122:47:39 Duke: It really works when you spin them up, Tony; it's great! (Pause)

[Duke - "It worked real good for us. The bags were like sandwich bags and had some little aluminum clips (tabs) on the end and, normally, people just folded them over and clipped them like a sandwich bag. But we found that just flipping them was quicker and then folding them in and that would lock it closed. That's what we did to every bag, if the sample wasn't so big that you...Sometimes we'd put a rock in there that was too big to do that with and couldn't get it closed at all; but we wanted to identify that rock, so we went ahead and put it in a bag so that they'd know where it was on the surface and we could identify it again. But that flipping it worked real good. I think the sample bags should have been bigger. You know, on future missions I think we ought to have bigger sample bags."]

[Muehlberger, from a 1997 e-mail message - "That technique was one that I suggested while watching them on a training exercise. Glad it worked so well!"]

[Charlie folds the tabs across the top of the bag and heads for the CDR seat. He stops near the left-rear fender and takes the CDR camera off his RCU bracket.]
--- End quote ---

Dr William R (Bill) Muehlberger, head geologist, can be seen a few times in the official Nasa movie Apollo 16: Nothing So Hidden. At about 13:22 he is snacking in a cafeteria with Jim Lovell, and at 19:22 he's in the back room with his colleagues, including Jack Schmitt, and when Young and Duke gradually get smaller on TV as they head toward House Rock he says, “And as our crew slowly...” which causes a lot of laughter because of the western movies of the 50s which so often ended with the hero(es) riding off into the sunset.

Going by Eric Jones's comment which follows, this event must be worth a look:-

--- Quote ---166:54:37 Young: Now, Tony, what is it you want me to do here?
[Fendell finds John at the CDR seat where he is removing a sample bag from the dispenser on his camera. During Tony's transmission that starts at 54:48, John bags the sample, spins the bag closed, and then folds the metal tabs to seal the bag. Note that he folds one tab on one side of the bag and the other tab on the opposite side. This is called "Z-ing". This may be the best video of sample bag closure in the Apollo record.]
--- End quote ---

There are also instances of sample bags being closed with the original non-spinning technique which I've yet to look up on the Spacecraft Films 6-DVD set. John Young found that a great mess could result when spinning a bag full of soil in one-sixth G.


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