Group members John Pernet-Fisher and Katherine Joy recently visited the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas to attend the New Views of the Moon 2 symposium, and to undertake some preliminary Apollo science planning work. The location of NASA’s mission control, and home of the 382 kg of lunar rock brought back by the Apollo astronauts; during our visit we were fortunate to be given a tour of where samples are kept, and how they are looked after.
Pictured above is the lab is where “pristine” lunar samples (the samples that have been continuously in NASA custody since return from the Moon) are prepared for shipment to scientists across the globe. These labs have been designed to keep lunar samples away from potential contamination from the Earth’s oxidising and moist atmosphere. The facility opened in 1979, much of the original sample processing cabinets are still in operation today. All cabinets are made of stainless steel and samples are handed using three layers of gloves. To avoid cross-contamination of samples from different places on the Moon, samples from different missions are not processed together in the same cabinet, but one or more cabinets are designated for processing samples from a particular mission. When cabinets become dusty from extensive processing or are needed for processing samples from a different mission, they are cleaned using ultra-pure water, the dust is then recovered and placed back into storage.
The door to the room pictured above is probably one of the biggest doors I’ve ever seen! This room is the lunar return sample vault. The samples that are not consumed during analysis by labs around the world are kept here. Approximately 48,000 samples have so far been returned by scientists. It is through the study of these samples that our understanding the Moon has been significantly advanced (see here for a summary of the scientific legacy of the Apollo missions). Ultimately, it is through the questions raised by studying these samples that will pave the way for future lunar exploration. Unlike storage within the Pristine Sample Vault, these cabinets are exposed to room air since the samples themselves have been exposed to the Earth’s atmosphere when they were located in scientist’s labs. If you wish to explore the moon yourself, pictures and sample descriptions can be found here: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/lunar/samples/, and a virtual microscope featuring lunar samples is available here: http://www.virtualmicroscope.org/collections/apollo.
The Johnson Space Centre also has a small rocket park on campus, housing one of the few remaining Saturn V rockets that launched the Apollo astronauts into space. Following the Apollo 17 mission, three more lunar missions were planned, however these were cancelled in 1970s. Sitting atop of the Saturn V is one of the Apollo modules that was partly build when the Apollo programme was cancelled. The rocket park is free for public visit, if you are ever in the Houston Area swinging by is a must!
For further information:
Link to the NASA Astromaterials Curation facility http://ares.jsc.nasa.gov/
Explore the Apollo sample curation lab online at http://curator.jsc.nasa.gov/index.cfm
For information about the general public visitor centre including tours of the Johnson Space Centre campus, follow this link: http://spacecenter.org/visitor-information/