Wednesday, September 23, 2009



One of my recent stops at JSC was the Lunar Sample Laboratory. With my advance apologies, this area is not open to the general public. In many past blog posts, I’ve pointed out interesting things around Houston to see or do, but in this case, it’s more of a behind-the-scenes look!

It’s fun to meet astronauts, but often even more interesting to meet the people who perform crucial functions on the ground before, during and after missions. The Star Sailors are one part of a vast team, and I am all about the unsung heroes! ;)

Lunar Sample Laboratory - Johnson Space Center
With Principal Scientist Andrea Mosie.
Click the picture to see a great article about her and the LSL!

Andrea took time out of a very busy schedule to take us into the LSL, now the main storehouse for Apollo era moon rocks. She said about 75% percent of all samples are stored here, another 15% were once in a facility in San Antonio for many years, but more recently moved to a secure location in White Sands. The remaining portions are dispersed around the world – being studied by scientists or housed by science museums and NASA mobile units for educational displays.

From the curator information:
Dedicated in July 1979, the facility marks its 30th anniversary this year. The two-story, 14,000-square-foot facility provides permanent storage of the lunar collection in a physically secure and non-contaminating environment.

Between 1969 and 1972, six Apollo missions brought back 2,200 samples, totaling 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of rocks, core samples, pebbles, sand and dust from six exploration sites. These precious materials are 3.1 to 4.4 billion years old.

NASA Lunar Sample Laboratory
Andrea & José Álvarez
The door on the right is the Lunar Sample Vault.
(Click the picture to see the entire photo gallery)

When removed from storage, pristine samples are handled in stainless steel cabinets purged by high-purity nitrogen gas. She explained that at any given time, rocks are studied on a per-mission basis in the cabinets. In other words, rocks from Apollo 11 would never be opened beside rocks from Apollo 14. Everything is kept separate to prevent any cross-contamination of materials.

She also detailed many properties of the facility, how samples are allocated for study, and how the origin of the moon is being revealed by the study of lunar samples. Thanks for the great tour opportunity, Andrea!

For detailed information on NASA’s catalogued off-world rocks, visit The Lunar Sample Atlas at the Lunar And Planetary Institute.