NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
McCollum and Donald Bogard
Houston, Texas – 18 June 2012
following is the transcript from a NASA Alumni League seminar. The
subject of this discussion was the history of the Lunar Receiving
Laboratory planning and implementation before and during the Apollo
Program. The slides referred to during the presentation are available
from this link (Apollo Lunar Quarantine Program,
PDF - 1.5MB)
H. Chaffee: Our first speaker today is going to be Gary McCollum.
Gary was a JSC employee from 1966 to 2004. He started his career with
the Air Force at Eglin Air Force Base [Florida] in ’63 as a
project scientist. He worked in the Medical Research and Ops [Operations]
Directorate as a quarantine officer for quarantine missions and managed
the Medical Surveillance Office for the Apollo and Skylab missions.
He developed early Shuttle life sciences experiments. He also worked
in the Shuttle Program Office and at NASA Headquarters [Washington,
DC] to integrate Spacelab and other payloads, and on return to JSC
worked on payload integration with international partners. He has
got his BS, MS in biology from Texas A&M – Commerce.
He’ll be followed by Dr. Don Bogard, who was a JSC employee
from 1968 to 2010. He’s got a PhD in nuclear chemistry from
the University of Arkansas [Fayetteville], and did a postdoc [post-doctoral]
in planetary sciences at Caltech [California Institute of Technology,
Pasadena]. He collaborated with several other young NASA scientists
and several outside scientists to design and build the science labs
in the Lunar Receiving Lab and to conduct preliminary science testing
of the returned lunar materials. He became part of the MSC [Manned
Spacecraft Center]/JSC planetary materials research organization and
was a lunar sample principal investigator from 1971 to 2010. Over
the period of 1990 to 2010 he was the JSC senior scientist for planetary
materials research. He now holds a part-time research fellowship at
the Lunar and Planetary Institute around the corner here. So let’s
start off with Dr. Bogard’s discussion.
you, Norm. We’re going to do this very informally. Gary and
I thought we’d break it up into four equal part sessions. We
will discuss those and entertain questions at the end of each of those.
On the other hand, if at any time you have a question about clarity
or don’t understand something, feel free to interrupt. The first
part of it, I’m going to cover something about what was the
LRL [Lunar Receiving Laboratory]; the history, how it came about,
why it was important, how it was physically structured, how it was
organized and managed. I’ve given talks in the [Building] 31
North lunar viewing area before to the open house that JSC has once
a year. There’ve been a number of younger JSC employees come
to that and when I’ve mentioned LRL, some had no idea what I
was talking about. So let me start off with a definition that’s
in the literature on what the purpose of the LRL was.
It was “to examine unknown, possibly dangerous material without
contaminating the material or the researcher, and with no prior experience
or requirements but staying flexible.” Well, that’s a
pretty large order. To do that, the LRL was a facility like none that
had ever existed before, and none has existed since then. It combined
two functions that do exist. One function was to protect the samples.
Those of you who went on the lunar tour saw how we protect samples
where we’re not concerned about the samples contaminating us.
I’ve actually toured a Bio Level 4 research lab in Maryland
and saw the other point of view. Namely you’re dealing with
dangerous biological materials. You’re not so concerned about
the cleanliness of the lab, just in protecting the environment from
These are two very different sets of criteria that you have to put
into these facilities. So when you bring these two together they tend
in many ways to work at cross-purposes. Now you might say, why is
it important anymore? I firmly believe if we ever try to bring samples
back from Mars robotically, if we ever try to send astronauts there,
this issue is going to come up again in spades. The public is much
more aware today of issues about foreign life, alien life, and how
it might affect the Earth in a negative way. Mars, let’s face
it, certainly today is a much more likely place for something like
this than is the Moon.
In terms of how the LRL came about and was managed, there’s
an old saying that a camel is a horse designed by committee. Well,
the LRL was designed by lots of different committees, and they didn’t
talk to one another, and they quarreled with one another. It is amazing
it came out the way it did. The whole concept behind some of this
science began actually in the very early ’60s when [President
John F.] Kennedy committed us to go to the Moon. The National Academy
[of Sciences] had two working committees. The one in biological sciences
started debating the concept of contamination, the biological point
of view. The committee in space sciences started debating the concept
of lunar materials or planetary materials, the scientific value in
bringing them back and studying them. This is the first level of lack
of communication. These committees did not communicate with each other
very much at all.
I’ll refer a lot to MSC. What that means is the Manned Spacecraft
Center which preexisted of course JSC. MSC was generally totally unaware
of any of this. In fact in 1963, at least a couple of the employees
here who were brought in early on for training astronauts, Elbert
[A.] King and Don [Donald A.] Flory in particular, worked up a very
simple idea of how you can use some simple nitrogen cabinets, you
bring the rocks back, and you do a little cataloging and photography
of them. Those of you who went on my tour last month will recognize
that’s similar to what we do over in the lunar vault area. That
idea was presented to [Center Director Robert R.] Gilruth, and Gilruth
turned it down as not being necessary. Not something they wanted to
get involved in.
By 1964, however, these review committees of the National Academy
were getting more and more involved in this. [NASA] Headquarters was
beginning to hear about this. Headquarters established an ad hoc committee
to study this whole issue of bringing samples back and what was required.
So now we have three groups outside of MSC involved in this, and still
MSC did not really pay any attention. They were really busy. In fact
Flory once told me that when he presented this to Gilruth, a number
of the engineers in the room were amazed that we would want to bring
rocks back from the Moon; for what possible purpose? [John M.] Eggleston
is quoted as saying that science at MSC was almost a dirty word.
By 1965, however, it became obvious to MSC management that things
were happening. They tried to get involved in it. The problem as they
perceived was—and this was true—that things were moving
without them. Not only would they likely not control these actions,
but that any facility would likely be located at another NASA Center,
not here in Houston. Furthermore, and this was really an eye-opener,
the Apollo 11 mission could be postponed if there was not a facility
ready. It had gone that far. It became a necessary requirement of
the whole mission. MSC management suddenly was involved in this. Unfortunately
they probably overreacted, created problems between them and NASA
Headquarters, problems between them and the two science committees,
problems with the ad hoc committee. Then there was another committee
created called the Lunar Sample Analysis and Planning Team that came
into existence. Lots of different cooks in the kitchen about that
Also Congress cut the MSC Apollo science budget in their 1966 budget.
So they were facing less money to accomplish this, not more money.
Finally the parties got together and began working together and petitioned
Congress. Congress was rather dubious of the need for such a facility,
and why it should be located in Houston. Finally that was all worked
out. There was a rush on the appropriations through Congress. Construction
of the LRL, the old Building 37, was begun in the summer of 1966.
It was finished, the construction part, in September of 1967, about
a year later. But then you had to outfit everything. All of the science
capability, the biological testing capability that Gary will talk
about, had to go in there. Furthermore there was a requirement that
these all had to be certified before the Apollo 11 mission could be
released. I think Gary will vouch for this. Those of us who worked
there in the early years, we felt we were constantly chasing the clock,
and we weren’t yet ready in all this.
By the way, the actual facility components themselves weren’t
complete until late ’68. The serious testing of the facility
did not begin until the fall of ’68, which is not that far before
the launch the following year. Let me talk a little bit about the
facility structure itself. Gary will talk about more parts to that
in detail. But basically the building had a one-story administrative
You want the chart?
if you’ve got it, Gary, that would be great. There was a one-story
administrative area that was not behind what we call the quarantine
barrier. This building, part of it was designed as both receiving
the samples, quarantining the astronauts, being able to study the
samples under a quarantine kind of condition. There was a one-story
astronaut quarantine. The requirement was they had to be in quarantine
21 days. There were people in there with them to maintain—and
I’m sure Gary will discuss that in a fair amount of detail.
There was a three-story area for sample handling, which also included
a facility 40 feet below ground, which was a radiation counting area.
This was behind—except for the radiation counting area—the
original quarantine barrier. You had air locks going through between
the nonquarantined part of the building and inside. That was the secondary
barrier, if you will, for quarantine.
It was back there that the various testing was done. The biological
test labs. There was a whole series of rooms, each room just about
had a separate species I think in it for testing. There was an enormous
room—two rooms, a first floor and second floor, with a big F-201
vacuum chamber—and I’ll talk a little more about that
later, and there’s also some photos of that back there. This
was intended to be the primary repository of the lunar sample boxes
when they came back. That’s where they’d be opened. It’s
where samples would be subdivided under as close to a lunar-like vacuum
as they could generate. The floor beneath that were the noisiest bunch
of pumps you can imagine, old-fashioned turbomolecular pumps, just
to maintain the vacuum in that facility. Then we had on the third
floor a lab for gas analysis and organic analysis. We had next to
this big vacuum chamber a laboratory for physical properties and chemical
Most of the sample examination was done inside glove boxes, nitrogen
glove boxes. That’s the F-201 [referring to photo]. You can
get an idea of the scale from the person standing on top. I’ll
talk more about that in the second part of my discussion. So the samples
had to be behind a primary barrier, which were the F-201 and the glove
boxes. The quarantine facility itself was the secondary barrier. The
facility was operated at a slightly negative pressure compared to
the outside, the idea being if there was anything in there, it wouldn’t
get out into the Clear Lake environment. The actual nitrogen cabinets
or the vacuum chamber were also at a slight negative pressure. Now
those of you who saw Building 31 North recall that we operate those
at a positive pressure, because we’re trying to maintain integrity
of the sample. So you don’t want anything leaking in. It’s
fine for the nitrogen to leak out.
But it was true in this whole process that maintaining the integrity
of the quarantine was the number one requirement for the whole facility.
Everything else had to live within that.
On the question of maintaining the negative pressure. How did you
clean the air that you were pumping out to maintain the negative pressure?
LRL had an unbelievable physical plant located on the second floor.
There were large incinerators where all air from that quarantine part
of the laboratory passed through to be burned. There was a separate
freestanding facility behind the building, which had big chemical
settling tanks. All the liquid effluents from the building went into
these chemical tanks, and were treated with very harsh chemicals before
they were dumped into the sewer lines. Then you had an air pressure
differential. You had the primary barriers the samples were in and
the humans were not supposed to come in contact with those samples
or any of the materials related to the samples.
Gary will talk about how that was violated a couple times and the
workers in the sample part of the area were actually quarantined with
the astronauts. In fact there’s a photograph on the table back
there of a lot of the people on Apollo 12 that were put back. Some
of them were scientists that were brought in. One scientist said later
he thought that was a good thing, because he thought he could contribute
more by sitting down with the astronauts while their memories were
still fresh and going through all the details of what they saw and
observed on the Moon. That was Cliff [Clifford] Frondel.
Let me now just mention a little bit about how the administrative
part of the LRL was set up. I’m not going to go into any detail.
As I said, there was an Academy of Sciences biological subcommittee
which created an ICBC, the Interagency Committee on Back Contamination,
which was staffed by representatives from Agriculture, Public Health,
any kind of government organization that thought they had a vested
interest in the biological integrity of the Earth. I’m sure
Gary will go into this in some detail.
There was the Lunar Sample Analysis Planning Team, which answered
to the National Academy’s space science committee and NASA Headquarters.
Within JSC, there were separate directorates. Charles Berry was head
of a medical directorate whose responsibility was for the biological
testing and the quarantine integrity. That organization answered up
to the ICBC. Then there was Wilmot [N.] Hess, who was the director
for more physical sciences aspect of the Manned Spacecraft Center.
Those of us who were involved in the nonbiological sample testing,
the physical-chemical part of it, answered up to him. Presumably Headquarters
monitored all of this. But in my opinion—and we’ll see
what Gary thinks—I think the real influence was these outside
committees at that point. Headquarters’, and to a fairly large
extent MSC and even our division organization, number one job was
keeping the advisory committees happy with what was going on, because
in those years they could and did raise a lot of political issues
all the way to Congress.
The whole building itself was under one division; although, as I’ve
just explained, people in the building had different responsibilities
and different chains of command. P. R. [Persa R.] Bell was the first
Division Chief [other than acting] of that organization. He was a
scientist. Actually he was a nuclear physicist. His emphasis was largely
on the science. That also, I think, created conflict between the quarantine
testing and the physical science studies. So conflict throughout.
A lack of clear ideas at the beginning for what was needed, and allowing
a lot of outside organizations to get in and get control of it. In
my opinion MSC management really lost a lot by not paying attention
early on to that.
In about ’67—in fact this goes all the way to the Academy
committee—they recognized that they needed scientists inside
the building that knew something about analysis of samples. So I was
one of about eight young scientists hired in ’67, ’68
specifically to help build the science labs within the Lunar Receiving
Lab; the science labs that did the physical-chemical testing, not
the biological labs. Gary can talk to that.
There were for each of these labs one or more outside scientists,
usually from a university, who were designated as principal investigators,
given a large grant of money to help set up whatever science equipment
was required inside the lab, and to manage that whole thing. There
were several of us working with outside scientists in that capacity.
Then there was another group of outside scientists who did not have
grants to set up the labs but who came specifically for the quarantine
testing of Apollo 11 and the later samples and so worked in those
labs. It was really a cosmopolitan group. There were international
scientists there as well as Americans. You had university people who
had no responsibility other than coming for a relatively short period
of time and doing the testing; university people who had large grants
of money to set up the lab and had the responsibility to see that
they worked. You had civil servants like myself there—most of
us young—who also had responsibility to help set up the lab
and see that they worked. We had a large contract staff. Then of course
we interacted with the whole quarantine biological side of things
through the samples. I think I’ve gone on long enough on that.
I’ll turn it over to Gary to talk about the quarantine biological
Don, was there NSF [National Science Foundation] involvement at that
don’t think the National Science Foundation had much involvement,
if any, but Gary can talk about that. You could see what government
organizations would be interested or concerned from a biological point
of view: Agriculture, Public Health, organizations like this. My personal
opinion is—and this is strictly my personal opinion—a
lot of that interest came from those organizations because they said
this is the greatest thing that’s happening in our time, we
want to have a little piece of the action. So they were more than
happy to insert themselves into it in some capacity. Okay, Gary.
I think Don has already talked about a lot of the stuff that I put
together, since we didn’t have a chance to get together beforehand.
He mentioned the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences
convened in ’63. The Interagency on Back Contamination formed
in ’63; the approval of the design for the LRL. This lasted
until 1971 when the lunar quarantine program ended. A lot of major
milestones in between. Don mentioned some of these people already,
but I’ll go ahead and mention [a few]. Dick [Richard S.] Johnston
was the special assistant to Dr. Gilruth at that time and he was assigned
as our back contamination operations director. Bill [Walter W.] Kemmerer
was our division chief. He was on the same parallel as P. R. Bell.
Ben [Bennie C.] Wooley, head of our quarantine branch. Then Hal [Harold]
Eitzen, Howard [J.] Schneider, Richard [C.] Graves and myself as quarantine
control officers; all brought in in ’68, ’69 time period
just before the mission.
Bill [William] Carpentier and John Hirasaki were the two individuals
identified to go into quarantine with the crew members in the MQF,
the Mobile Quarantine Facility. Clarence [A.] Jernigan was our CRA
[Crew Reception Area] test director. You’ve already mentioned
these people I guess with the exception of Gene Simmons and Jim [James
C.] McLane. I don’t know what their involvement was other than
more planning for the—you mentioned King and yourself—
Simmons was brought in later. There were several people that came.
Everett Gibson is back here. Several people came around 1970. There
were already geology types here from the mid ’60s who were brought
in to train astronauts. So the group I mentioned was specifically
to work with the outside university people to build the science labs
and perform the lunar sample testing.
The charter of the ICBC Interagency Committee on Back Contamination,
which was housed in Atlanta, Georgia, that was the genesis of it,
was to protect the public health, agriculture, other living resources,
protect the integrity of the lunar samples and scientific experiments,
and to ensure that the operational aspects of the program were least
Had a couple of objectives in mind. The biological containment of
the crewmen, the lunar samples and other lunar exposed material, such
as the film and the data, had to be in special containers to be opened
there in the LRL. Biological assessment of the returned lunar samples
to ensure safe release could be effected.
It was very important to go through each of these phases of the back
contamination program to ensure that everyone was safe, not only the
crew members, but the population as well. Transportation to and from
the LRL. Of course the aircraft carrier picked up the crew members
and the Command Module after splashdown and then transported them
directly to the Lunar Receiving Lab. Then the samples were distributed
to the investigators.
could I make a point on this slide? One major point of contention
between NASA and those who wanted the whole quarantine was on splashdown,
because recall, the capsule was opened. The astronauts were taken
out into a life raft, brought by helicopter to the deck of the carrier,
then entered the Mobile Quarantine, which was an Airstream trailer.
There were a lot of people upset about that in the advisory groups.
But NASA put their foot down on that in saying that the safety of
the astronauts came paramount there. They gave in on anything else,
but it makes you wonder just how far one has to go to maintain complete
I have a question about that step. Did the people that came in contact
with the astronauts during the initial phase of pulling them out and
on the helicopter, did they get quarantined?
No they did not. The biological isolation garments were passed into
the Command Module. The astronauts put those on before they came out
of the Command Module. So essentially they were protected, and everyone
was happy. They went ahead and went into the Mobile Quarantine Facility
in the biological isolation garments. They then took them off once
they were inside the MQF.
You said they had special suits on that they put on while they were
in the Command Module?
So the violation wasn’t quite—.
inside of the Apollo module was covered with fine lunar dust.
So the Command Module was of more concern rather than the crew from
Comes down to what’s practical and what’s not practical.
NASA then, as Don alluded to earlier, began actually building the
LRL. I’m not going to go into any of that. But we were concerned
about the 21 days that was established here after exposure of the
host. The 21 days actually started on the Moon as soon as they lifted
off, so we were in a countdown from that point on. They were back
to the lab within three days I believe of the actual landing on the
Gary, what was the quarantine time in the MQF?
Whatever it took to get from the recovery ship back to the LRL.
That was part of the 21 days or was it 21 days in addition?
No, 21 days started on the Moon. It lasted through the quarantine
period in the LRL.
I think that was really only one of the requirements, because another
requirement—and this was a little bit of an issue—was
that the biological testing had to demonstrate no deleterious effect
and then the quarantine had to be officially released. The astronauts
early on were concerned about that. So it was more than just an arbitrary
21 days, correct?
That’s right. There was lots of consternation and they didn’t
like being isolated that long.
you were under a lot of pressure in the biological testing to get
a yes or no.
Absolutely. I’ll get into that in the fourth part of this. We
did have intensive medical examinations of the flight crew members
during the quarantine to make sure that they were not affected at
all. We also had primary contacts that would be protected in the event
that they came in touch with the crew members while they were in isolation.
Start of quarantine. We’ve already talked to the MQF, so here’s
a picture of it. As Don said, it’s a modified Airstream trailer.
There’s Neil [A. Armstrong] doing his ukulele inside the MQF.
We did have special sample return containers for the lunar soil. We
had two of those for each of the missions that were returned. Then
special containers as I said for the medical lunar samples, films
and data tapes.
Question on those containers. How many of those retained a good seal
as opposed to having air leak in?
They were all certified ahead of time.
will cover that in a little bit. Bring the question up in my next
part of it.
Don mentioned the Class III biological cabinetry where the samples
were analyzed and introduced to the test specimens. This is one picture
of the technician reaching in with the rubber gloves. You have negative
pressure on the inside and the room is under negative pressure with
relation to the outside air, so if anything did get loose it would
stay in there.
you tie the glove off. That’s what happened to the Apollo 12
Not only that. But if you got a leak in the glove, that meant you
went into the quarantine also.
of the scientists noticed apparently a little slit or prick in the
glove. He realized that could be a leak, so he pulled the glove out
and tied a knot in it, thinking that was the thing to do. The standard
procedure then was if you had any kind of indication of barrier violation
you called the quarantine officer. They then would come and inspect
the situation. All operations were frozen. We had these big red buttons,
spill alarms in each of the labs. Those alarms go off, everything
freezes. The quarantine officer came and looked and decided tying
the glove was the wrong thing to do, because now the hand of the glove
is no longer at negative pressure relative to the room. Anything in
the hand can leak out. So those people in that p-chem [physical-chemical]
test area were sent into quarantine with the astronauts.
But there's more. Before they sent them into quarantine they sent
them to the showers. You had to shower going out of the quarantine
area. You had a guard and an automatic magnetic door to get out of
there. These guys were isolated in the shower while administration
decided what to do with them. There was a scientist who had left another
lab I think long before this. He was in the shower before the group
came in, but the door had been locked. He couldn’t get out.
Because he came in contact with that group he was quarantined with
them. That was Cliff Frondel.
We actually did simulations on the spills too, so we thought we had
everything covered. Let’s see here. During the quarantine period
the crew and their immediate contacts underwent daily medical examinations.
There was a few instances in the LRL operations when the technicians
had to be quarantined. Terry Slezak comes to mind. He was the NASA
photographer that had his picture in the paper with his hands like
this. See me? I’ve got lunar dust on me. So he became a hero
overnight I guess. It’ll always be in my mind.
was the woman inside one of the bio test areas that got quarantined.
They didn’t know where to put her, so they put her in the MQF,
which was mated against the LRL. That’s the way they brought
the astronauts in. So she was isolated in the Mobile Quarantine Facility
for the duration.
We did have a number of recommendations being developed for releasing
the crew and the support staff. As long as we didn’t have any
effects of the lunar sample on the test organisms. I’ll get
into that in a little bit. As long as we met those release criteria
then the crew would be allowed to leave. We did have different types
of decontamination procedures in place. We had our health and safety
office that monitored everything you can imagine on the inside of
the barrier. The three areas that Don mentioned a while ago essentially
was the barrier.
crew area was considered a primary contaminate, so it was separate
from the sample handling area.
I guess you were going to get into the principal investigators [PIs].
Well, just to show you the magnitude of this. The literature quoted
150 to 200 PIs throughout the world. You can imagine the logistics
involved in trying to keep up with how much sample needed to go to
one investigator versus another.
A. Vaughan: What was happening to the spacecraft
during this time?
The Command Module?
Command Module. We had propellant on there, we’re trying to
get it off. I know we stayed on the ship and we decontaminated.
It was brought back to the LRL and had a separate room for it.
it was proven it was safe.
hatch was closed?
was part of the crew quarantine area.
Part of the Crew Reception Area at LRL.
were very interested in getting that hardware looked at, the spacecraft
hardware, to be sure that we didn’t have any issues.
they didn’t let you get to it. It’s even worse than that.
We had two or three air locks. They were rooms that went between the
inside and the outside so you had the pressure gradient across there.
They were bathed in ultraviolet light. To take anything in, you could
use them. If you had to have any kind of repair work done and you
needed a maintenance person, you did not tell them when they brought
their tools in they couldn’t take them back out again, and that
didn’t make some of them happy. Now the way you got things out
if you needed it out was there was a big dunk tank of peracetic acid,
I think it was. You had to dunk the item in peracetic acid, and you
better be darn sure it would take that kind of treatment for a period
of time. So we had these so-called barrier crossing modes like that.
But they had rules as to how you could use them.
Keep in mind we also had the yellow tape too in the air locks.
Shell No-Pest strips hanging from the ceiling because flies and other
flying insects didn’t realize they weren’t supposed to
fly in and back out.
I had a standing joke with Buzz Aldrin the last 30 years or so about
watching the roaches come across the floor and crossing that yellow
tape during the night. Oh boy.
One of the interesting things is how did we get our data out? We were
generating data on the inside and we wanted to get it out.
There was a Xerox machine that was designed especially such that the
imaging part of it was behind the quarantine barrier. You placed your
data on this, and you hoped somebody would be on the other side of
the quarantine barrier. You’d beat on the window or call on
the telephone. “Would you come and please push the print button
on the outside.” So they would come and push the button on the
outside and scan your image behind the quarantine barrier, put your
product on the outside.
how much easier we can do that today.
This is before computers and wireless systems of data. It just didn’t
I don’t think that was ever documented in the literature.
think it was put in after Apollo 11.
I think so. We realized we needed it.
still a little bit curious about what happened to the spacecraft.
Now you guys are saying the hatch stayed closed that long?
closed the hatch. They brought the spacecraft to a special room with
a big roll-up door. They put it in there, sealed the door.
they bring it to 31?.
There was a special room on the back side at a lower elevation. Later
on they built big freezers in there.
Here, let me go back to that chart.
also was a special door for the Mobile Quarantine Facility to be mated
against the building and the door opened, and it was left there too.
help me understand, did we bring it there before we decontaminated
the bi-props [propellants] off of that Command Module? I don’t
don’t know about that. But we did not open the door again I
know, so it was not decontaminated on the inside [of the LRL].
Decontamination was done on the ship. Once it was put in the LRL it
didn’t come out until it was released. Nobody did anything to
Chet, the location of that special room is right there at the end
of that arrow.
remember the Command Module showing up, but you’re right, decontamination,
most of it occurred on the ship. Then later we started doing it in
San Diego [California].
the fuel was an issue I recall. I don’t know what they did with
was always an issue. Okay, I’m sorry, but I was just curious.
That’s okay, we’re encouraging everybody to ask questions.
sometimes give you a better feel for what happened.
Okay. Basically the results were finally determined and we saw no
reason to question the fact that we did not find any microorganisms
I just had a question. Apollo 11 came back during hurricane season
here in Houston. Were there any logistics made in case a hurricane
was coming that you would evacuate the crew? Where would you take
don’t think hurricanes were nearly as much concern in those
years as they’ve been recently. I don’t know why, because
[Hurricane] Carla was not that long before.
Yeah, right, ’61.
the way, the whole JSC area was flooded in Carla, because I had a
fellow working in my lab that lived in Texas City during Carla. He
came down the freeway before they closed it. He said nothing but the
freeway was dry land then.
This was all ranchland at that time. There weren’t any facilities
the point is that I don’t think there was that general concern.
On the other hand the walls of this building are fantastically thick.
It was felt to be a secure facility. But clearly it wasn’t secure
against rising water, because it’s not high like the 31 North
facility. Are you going to cover the different kinds of species?
Yes, in the fourth part. That’s what you wanted?
Let me make a couple of comments about the quarantine part. Sometimes
anecdotes really stick in my brain that way. I was one of four scientists
in October ’69 sent to the ICBC at the Centers for Disease Control
[CDC] in Atlanta to give them a briefing. I was there to give the
physical sciences testing results, the other three were there to give
the results of quarantine and the biological testing. One was [Dr.
don’t remember the other two. Up until that point people who
were not on the biological side thought this was a lot of hooey if
you will, nonsense. We realized we had to go along with it. But almost
everyone inside the building and outside the building associated with
the physical-chemical testing did not really believe in this. I learned
something at the CDC I had not appreciated.
Most of us thought that the quarantine concern was bringing lunar
organisms back. But in talking to some of the scientists there I found
out they were much more concerned about terrestrial organisms having
a long sojourn in space, mutating and coming back. This was early
enough in the process of understanding the effects of radiation mutation
on organisms. I hadn’t appreciated that. I don’t think
a lot of people would. But it was a difficult place to work because
you had all these quarantine rules. For example the contractors—most
of them were young too—in order to keep sane I guess started
writing on their white shirts. You’ve seen pictures. We were
all dressed in special clothing for that. They’d write comments
on the shirt.
Then they started doing things like wearing the shirt backwards, not
wearing socks, something like that. Every time this happened management
would come out with a policy statement of you don’t do this.
They’d think of something else to do. Finally management came
out with a policy statement. “You shall wear complete uniform,
which consists of—.” Little things like that went on all
the time. It was because it was a stressful environment. We had three
around-the-clock shifts. Sometimes one shift would be there much longer
than 8 or 10 hours because of other issues. So it was tiring, it was
stressful. That was just one way of relieving the tension.
In terms of Dick Johnston, the thing I remember about Johnston was
he taught me what it means to be a manager. Those of you who have
been managers may appreciate this. This happened I think about January,
February, whenever Dick Johnston was sent to take over from Bell.
P. R. Bell was a scientist. Scientists and engineers I think when
they have tests like this emphasize what’s not working right,
because they want to identify it so they can fix it. We’d go
through these simulations and things wouldn’t work right, so
I’m sure the reports they issued were about what didn’t
work. Dick Johnston was sent over immediately after one simulation.
These simulations would last for long periods of time. We’d
build up for them.
He was sent over and called all the scientists into a room. He gave
us this dressing down about we had to get this lab ready. “You
did poorly. We’re going to have another sim. You’re going
to do it right this time.” We all looked at one another thinking,
“But we haven’t fixed the problems.” So at Johnston’s
insistence we had another sim. Most of us thought at least as many
things went bad as did the first time. Johnston called us in again.
We expected another dressing down. He told us how proud he was of
us, how great things had gone, and he was ready to verify the facility.
Right then I learned what it meant to be a manager.
I didn’t mention how I got involved over there. I was working
for Deke [Donald K.] Slayton at the time. Deke sent me over there
before Johnston I guess, and wanted me to start coordinating between
Dr. Kemmerer and Dr. Bell. He said, “They don’t talk to
each other. Kemmerer wants to do this and Bell wants to do that.”
So what I started doing was having daily meetings with everybody and
trying to get everybody on the same page, and it started working.
Slowly one by one we got all the issues on the piece of paper and
got them worked. But you’re right about Johnston, he was quite
a manager. Okay. That completes my part. If you want to go ahead and
do yours. Sir?
were in a race to go to the Moon.
Defense Department was more worried about whether we would be annihilated
by the Russians versus some of these species coming back.
of us who were not in the quarantine weren’t concerned about
that decision. We were happy to get all of it.
On clearance from the quarantine. How many different organizations
were involved? You mentioned something about 120 some PIs.
after the quarantine was lifted. The ICBC I guess had the final write-off.
ICBC was the final authority. Well, I say final authority. It went
all the way up to Sam [Samuel C.] Phillips, the program manager for
the Apollo program, to approve everything.
But all the work though was done within the lab here. None of the
samples were sent out to be analyzed or be assessed.
and no. I’ll talk about it. Okay. I want to talk a little bit
about the sample flow now and the kinds of experiments that were done.
Not in the biological testing area but in the physical-chemical testing.
There’s a photo here of the box being received. I think it’s
up on the table. One of the four guys unloading the box is Gary here.
In fact there’s a big color photo of that in Building 31 on
the wall. The box was brought in.
We had the big F-201 vacuum chamber. It’s the most expensive
single part probably of the LRL. There was a lot of early interest
in trying to keep the lunar samples under a lunar-like environment.
Well, the lunar daytime atmosphere is one part in 1012 that of the
terrestrial atmosphere. It is really a serious vacuum, and it gets
even more so at night. That whole technology was before its time,
it turned out.
The vacuum chamber was in here. An operator, usually a couple of the
biggest contractor guys we had, would stand here, and they wore big
space suit type gloves so they could reach in and manipulate anything
inside. There were two big vacuum carousels on either side of it.
One held tools and other things and one was for samples. We put the
box in through a gas nitrogen line where the box would be cleaned
on the outside first before it was passed into this big vacuum component.
I mentioned there were lots of big turbomolecular pumps through the
floor. That’s a metal floor we’re sitting on.
Once in there, the first thing that would happen to the box is they
would take a pressure reading. There’s a septum on it where
they attach a device and by capacitance roughly estimate the pressure.
The next thing was that we had two small mass spectrometers sitting
on top of the F-201. They’re right here, mounted directly on
top of the vacuum chamber. There’s a close-up photo of them
back there. We would attach a probe to the septum on the box with
an O-ring seal, and we would puncture that and draw any of the gases
out into these mass spectrometers. The electronics—and most
of us—were one floor up doing the analysis. There’s a
whole series of valve arrangements there you can see.
Once that happened, the box would be opened, because we’d drawn
off the gases. The samples would be removed. Of course, what the samples
looked like wasn’t new. On the Moon, the first thing the astronauts
did was take a contingency sample. They weren’t sure how long
they’d be there, so they grabbed some random materials, put
them in a sack. Those were in the return capsule as well and went
into quarantine with the astronauts. But samples in the box presumably
were more pristine, because the return capsules I’m told weren’t
exactly nice-smelling or all that clean after they’d been in
space that long.
By the way, one time there was a leak in one of these gloves. They
had to physically go up and pull the glove operator out of it. With
that kind of vacuum and atmosphere on the outside, you can imagine
the suction that would be involved. But it just never was able to
prevent all outside air from getting inside. Just all kinds of trouble
with it. It was very difficult to operate for a glove operator. A
lot of the internal ideas didn’t work very well either.
The F-201 was used, however, for both boxes on Apollo 11. Between
11 and 12 we co-opted one of the biological test labs, and set up
a quick lab for processing one of the Apollo 12 boxes in the same
kind of nitrogen environment you saw in Building 31, which is what
Don Flory and Elbert King in 1963 had recommended doing. The Apollo
12 samples were split that way. After that the F-201 was abandoned.
While the samples were in the F-201, several subsamples were taken.
We had containers that we could put a sample in and seal. These containers
then could be bagged in Teflon bags which were brought out. I mentioned
we had ways of sterilizing these when they came out, usually in an
air lock. It was ethylene oxide I think. Ethylene oxide in the air
locks, peracetic acid in the dunk tanks. But we would sterilize the
One such sample went to the radiation counting lab, which was 40 feet
below ground, which by the way in the early design of the LRL was
intended to be behind the biological barrier. They decided it would
be too complicated to take it out, so they came up with this way of
sealing samples in containers. The sample on the inside of the container
is still contaminated, but as long as the outside integrity is there,
you could take it down to be counted. By the way in later years they
put astronauts on cots down there and did whole-body counting on their
potassium content in that same facility.
Another sample—and I was involved in this—we had a pneumatic
system. They took a small sample and they shot it down to a floor
below to what we called the physical chemistry test lab, where it
went into a reaction cell. We then exposed that sample one at a time
to different gases, like nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen. We had
a gas chromatograph to measure whatever gaseous reactants might be
given off. We were interested in the chemical reactivity of lunar
I want to emphasize again, we were really ignorant of the Moon at
this time. By the way, we really didn’t see much gas in the
boxes, the pressure you ask about. All of them were at considerably
higher pressure than on the Moon. Most of that, however, was degassing
from the samples in the boxes, because the samples are loaded with
hydrogen and helium from the solar wind.
Outgassing of volatiles?
hydrogen and helium from the samples inside. The boxes were machined
out of a single block of aluminum the size of a small suitcase. For
a vacuum seal they had indium, which is a soft metal, around the edge.
They had a protector over that. So when the astronauts would put samples
in the boxes they’d pull the protector off and close the lid.
The idea was that any particle of lunar dust would get in the indium,
and the indium was soft enough that it would give.
I think one or two of them leaked up to the atmosphere, but most of
them did not. The first Apollo 12 box we put into the nitrogen cabinet,
we put it in the air lock, and we had to sterilize its exterior. A
vacuum in the air lock was used to remove the air, then ethylene oxide
was put in to sterilize the outside of the box. After that, the air
lock was pressurized to nitrogen and the box moved into the cabinet.
We sampled the atmosphere in that box while it was inside the cabinet.
Well, we didn’t find ethylene oxide. It had reacted with the
lunar samples. But we found the Freon carrier they used for ethylene
oxide. In the process of pulling a vacuum on that box, they vented
it into the air lock then filled it with the sterilizing gas mixture.
So it was a constant series of things where you had to react. None
of this had been done either at all or enough that you had any real
experience of what was going to occur.
Another thing that we did fairly early, and I was instrumental in
this as well, is we realized some of the tests could not be easily
done with quarantined samples. I actually worked with some of the
people in the quarantine control for a quick way of doing heat sterilization
of materials. We could get them out from behind the barrier, while
the quarantine was still going on, sterilize some of the small amounts
of the lunar sample and do testing.
Let me give you an anecdote as to how the groups interacted, the advisory
groups, and how we worked. The people, those of us who could go behind
the quarantine barrier, were called the Preliminary Examination Team.
You had to be on this restricted list to get back there. The members
of the Lunar Sample Analysis and Planning Team, who were an advisory
group, couldn’t go back there. They were on the outside. So
once a day one or more members of the Preliminary Exam Team would
come out and give briefings to the outside group as to what we were
finding. There were over 2,000 members of the press registered to
come on the Center at that time. Any one day during this, there were
probably 200 of them out in front of the main door to Building 37.
Neither of these groups had much to do other than wait and talk to
one another. So there was a lot of discussion between the press and
this advisory group, who really didn’t know much about what
was going on but knew what should be going on. There were two main
concepts of what the Moon might be like. Just giving you these concepts
emphasizes how ignorant we were. Harold Urey was a Nobel Prize winner
in chemistry. Back in the ’30s he was the first person to separate
an isotope of an element, hydrogen from deuterium. He won the Nobel
Prize for that. He’d gotten interested in planetary science
in the late ’40s, and wrote a book about the Moon. In the ’50s
he actually wrote a paper in which he advocated that the lunar maria
were dried-up seabeds. He thought the Moon was a volatile-rich primitive
object dating back to the early formation of the solar system.
The US Geological Survey had a contract with NASA to help train astronauts.
By the way that was another source of conflict. The Survey thought
they had exclusive rights. The geologists that were hired at MSC in
the mid ’60s thought they should be heavily involved. So there
was conflict between these two groups doing astronaut training. The
Survey at that time, especially led by Gene [Eugene M.] Shoemaker,
espoused the idea the Moon was young and volcanic. You’ve got
to remember in those years geologists did not think impacts were any
kind of important geologic process. Although some scientists recognized
most of those holes on the Moon were caused by impacts, they were
craters, a lot of people thought many of the holes were volcanic edifices,
and the Moon was young and volcanic. Very different ideas about the
There was a fair amount of conflict and cat and mouse playing between
the group on the inside doing analysis and those on the outside. Of
course one way you could maybe differentiate between these two views
of the Moon is how old are the rocks. Well, Oliver Schaeffer, who
had the contract to do the noble gases in my lab—and by the
way my lab hosted about three or four principal investigators. Ray
[Raymond] Davis, who later won the Nobel Prize in physics for his
work on neutrinos, was an investigator up there. Klaus Biemann was
the PI for organic analysis of lunar samples. He later became a PI
on the Viking mission for some of the organic analysis on Mars.
In my lab we were measuring argon-40, which is a decay product of
potassium-40. It’s one of the radioactive decay series that
we used for determining ages of samples routinely. Ross Taylor, who
was an Australian, was down in the p-chem test lab, and that’s
where they were measuring potassium. In principle, although we weren’t
supposed to do science—although how one analyzes totally new
samples and doesn’t do science wasn’t clear to any of
us—you could put these two numbers together and come up with
Schaeffer and Taylor would never give the number to more than one
significant figure when they would brief this outside group. Potassium
one number, argon one number. Even though the outside advisory group
would admonish them, “You must know better than that.”
“No, we don’t, this is all we’re willing to tell
you.” So the age remained unknown for several days.
Until finally one day I gave part of the briefing and gave two significant
figures. I thought it’d gone on too long. By the way, before
this time, when we opened the first box and saw that the rocks were
volcanic and very fresh-looking, it looked as if the young volcanic
theory of the Moon was the correct one. Harold Urey, who was there
along with many of the others, got very discouraged and went back
to La Jolla [California].
When I gave the numbers to two significant figures and said, “Now
you’re not supposed to do science, but if you do put these together,
this is the age of this rock,” immediately Jim Arnold, one of
the professors in the room, went to the bank of telephones outside,
called Harold Urey, and said, “Harold, come back to Houston,
you were right after all, the lunar rocks are old.” Gene Shoemaker
wasn’t in the room that day representing the young volcanic
idea, so the word got to these 200 reporters outside before he came
to the building.
When he came to the building it was like running a beltline. The press
suddenly had some raw meat. “Dr. Shoemaker, what about this?
The lunar rocks are old.” He denied it. He said, “No,
there’s something wrong, you’ve heard wrong, they made
a mistake, they can’t be that old.” Well, in a sense they
were both right. It is a primitive body. We’ve learned a lot
about the early solar system. But it’s also a volcanic body
with a lot of those characteristics. It’s a good story about
the interplay among groups; how new lunar science was.
The press was so interested. I got a telephone call late one night
from—I think it was Izvestia [newspaper] in Russia wanting to
ask questions about some of the science testing. Thinking about it
later, I realized I had to be speaking to an interpreter, because
it was a really weird type of conversation.
We had a nitrogen cabinet in the p-chem test lab, so a lot of this
testing went on there. There was a spark gap spectroscope set up inside
the nitrogen cabinet, an old way of doing chemical analysis. Being
inside this nitrogen cabinet really created headaches if you had to
do anything. Take the normal things you do around your house and put
big mittens on your hands and imagine how much more difficult it is.
Well, we had that in spades.
The organic analysis, they had little nickel capsules, and they would
load some lunar sample in a nickel capsule, crimp it to seal it, sterilize
it out, bring it up to the mass spectrometer, load it in the mass
spectrometer. They had a way of puncturing it inside the source. Heat
it up, drive organic material off. Now the sample was potentially
contaminated. That contaminant goes through the mass spectrometer
into the pumps. The mass spectrometer operates at high vacuum. What
do you do with it? Well, you have these special filters in this pumping
system. So it wasn’t just the building you had to control the
quarantine, it was also various operations.
On either side of these filters was a big valve. Steam was piped to
the filter. We had liquid nitrogen, steam; utility lines all over
the building. You’d close both these valves, run steam through
the filter to sterilize it, then you could open it and replace the
filter. Nobody would ever do that purposely on a vent from an ordinary
pump, which is why we worked on sterilizing some samples in order
to do some analyses outside of quarantine protocols. We had a lot
It’s not an easy way of doing science. Now this was a preliminary
exam. You asked a question about the 200 investigators. When the quarantine
was lifted, there was a whole distribution. That’s still ongoing
to lunar scientists all over the world. There were actually more than
200 eventually that got lunar material.
Let me tell an anecdote here too which gives you a flavor of how important
lunar samples were perceived to be was at the time. One of the scientists
in my lab, Joe [Joseph] Zahringer, was from the Max-Planck-Institut
fur Physik in Heidelberg [Germany]. While he was spending all his
time over here, back in the Max-Planck-Institut fur Chemie in Mainz,
a rival institute also in Germany, they were talking to the press
about how they were going to get lunar samples. They were getting
all the publicity in Germany about the science that they would do.
Zahringer couldn’t take any samples back until after the quarantine,
but he made friends with a division secretary and other people, so
when he was back in Germany he was in daily contact to find out how
close were they to packaging individual samples and sending them to
investigators. When they were close, he came to Houston early, before
the official notice was received in Germany to come pick up your samples.
He has his sample in hand going back to Germany before the rival group
gets on the way. He has prearranged for the press to be there. So
Zahringer and Heidelberg now get all the press of having the first
lunar sample in Germany. That was big news then. It’s hard to
overestimate the excitement I think that not only scientists but a
lot of the press and general public felt about this. I should let
Gary get on with his presentation.
Okay. Basically Dr. Walkinshaw’s botanical investigations dealt
with quite a few species. I’ll go through and try to read [the
slide]. Onion, algae, cabbage, pepperweed, watermelon, lime, cantaloupe,
cucumber, soybean weed, sunflower, lettuce, tomato, club moss. As
you can see there’s quite a selection of different types of
plants. Try as he may, he could not affect the growth pattern on any
some of these are growing inside these cabinets.
Oh yes. All these were exposed in the biological cabinetry.
They put lunar dust on them, some of the regolith.
Let’s see. The virological investigations. You’ve got
African green monkey kidney, human embryonic kidney, embryonic lung,
embryonic kidney, rainbow trout, minnows, cattle kidney and swine
These were not petri dish type experiments. These were more with plants
themselves and with biological organisms.
Absolutely. That’s what I’m covering was the biological
side of the house.
was a whole organism testing concept.
Then the third category was the zoology investigations. Here you’ve
got all kinds of different bacteria and single-cell organisms that
were exposed. Again the results were basically for [Apollo] 11, 12
and 14. They experienced no health problems as the result of their
exposure to the lunar material. I don’t know if you wanted to
go into any more of that or not.
don’t you talk about Chuck’s experience with the press,
because the corn grew better.
Okay. But I did go ahead and bring my albums from [Apollo] 11, 12,
13 and 14. My way of documenting some glorious years that I really
enjoyed during the quarantine program, even 13 with the aborted mission,
being out on the recovery ship. I would have been in charge of the
quarantine on that mission, but as it turned out my role got changed
real quick. I ended up assisting the ship’s physician in the
OR [operating room]. That was a unique experience in itself. I brought
the albums if you want to take a look, go back in time, read up on
what happened during those missions.
So Gary, what mission did we stop the quarantine?
[Apollo] 14 was the last one.
argument was that several different types of samples would have to
be tested, like regolith, a volcanic rock, a breccia. Also they wanted
subsurface samples like core tubes. They wanted to test different
domains on the Moon. Apollo 14 visited a rather different highland
area—11 and 12 went to mare areas—so they definitely wanted
that. Again, it was not all engraved in stone beforehand. I’m
sure the ICBC reacted to some degree too in real time as to what they
I mentioned Walkinshaw, a lot of this was in the press. He had these
corn plants and fed lunar samples to them. They seemed to grow better
than they did without lunar material, so the press was very interested
But it was one concept of how to test organisms. In the mid ’90s
I was on a NASA study group. We met many times at [NASA] Ames [Research
Center, Moffett Field, California] while fleshing out some of the
concepts of a Mars robotic sample return. We had JPL [Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, California] engineers there. One of several
times NASA thought they were serious about that. A member of the group
was Ken [Kenneth] Nealson, who’s a biologist then at the University
of Wisconsin. I remember having a long conversation with him at one
of these meetings about how best to test for an organism if you don’t
know its characteristics. His opinion was that you would not do it
on whole-organism testing today. You’d do cell culture. But
I have read that in at least some of the advisory groups that are
still advising NASA, still like the idea of whole-organism testing.
You could build a Noah’s ark where you’re putting almost
everything in there and have enormous issues.
The LRL cost $24 million through 1970. That’s about $140 million
today. That’s about the cost of a small robotic mission. Who
knows what that would cost today? It seems to me the biological testing
could be very open-ended.
don’t really know where to draw the line.
Did they ever find anything on the mutation issue that you mentioned
earlier? Mutation of the organisms you’re carrying with you?
don’t think they studied it.
The one PI did come up with a find with a microorganism, but it was
later refuted because it was determined it was terrestrial. In other
words they carried it up there and they brought it back.
the testing was oriented toward the idea let’s take various
types of living things on Earth, expose them to lunar material and
see if anything bad happens to them. In my opinion just thinking about
that, that’s a difficult proposition, because there’s
so many different organisms. How do you determine when bad things
happen? It may be subtle. Maybe it takes a long period of time.
gentlemen, thank you. Thank you very much.
Oh, got another question here.
Basically the types of protection you were doing was both forward
propagation which we talked about being taken to the Moon and then
brought back a mutation, then what was at the Moon being introduced
as some kind of virulent interaction with our environment once it
was brought back. But the third thing is to prevent primarily our
concerns both in 11 through 17 was introducing our own self-contamination
to the samples, to make sure that you could discriminate what had
previously happened versus what’s happening now. So that is
why you continue to quarantine even after 14.
we don’t call it a quarantine. A quarantine has implication
of a biological kind of issue. There are a lot of materials today
that are processed in environments to try to keep them from being
contaminated from the terrestrial environment when they’re processed.
So what we’re doing in that regard is not unusual. We limit
the kinds of materials that go into the nitrogen cabinets—you’ve
got to put something in there, so there’s always somebody you
don’t quite make happy—and we keep out the terrestrial
By the way I was involved early on—mentioning about bringing
Mars samples back—in trying to come up with basic ideas of how
one would design a better facility for handling Mars material. It’s
difficult. Some of the things we looked at were the primary barrier
being a double barrier. The wall in between has negative pressure,
so you can prevent terrestrial air from going in on the sample, but
also prevent the sample contaminants from coming out. That only adds
to complexity and cost. But if we bring samples back from Mars—and
if you send astronauts there, by definition you are—it’s
going to be a big issue. It’s going to be an expensive, technically
complicated, publicly-laced concern with all this. I personally think
if we ever do it we will come up with some way to argue that the Mars
surface is already sterile and as long as we don’t dig below
the surface we’re okay. Otherwise I’m not sure it’s
going to happen.
One other comment, Don. Basically your facility is still being used
post Apollo with the geology and that series of flights that we went
and captured inner solar material.
Two things happened in Apollo. Apollo lunar science was really the
beginning of modern planetary sample science. Second, Apollo experience
expanded to all kinds of later sample studies. In fact we have a saying.
You’ve heard the saying that one picture is worth a thousand
words. Well, we like to say one sample is worth a thousand pictures.
Beginning with Apollo we honed basic ways of protecting the sample,
what kind of materials are acceptable, which ones aren’t.
Let me just mention an example of organic testing. I mentioned they
measured organics in lunar samples. If Harold Urey had been right
there might have been lots of organic material there. Some meteorites
contain very high amounts of organic material, including amino acids
for example. When they initially measured organics in lunar samples,
it was contamination. We did a lot of work between missions trying
to reduce the organic contamination level on tools and sampling devices
we sent to the Moon just so they could push down the lower limit of
They never did measure in those early experiments true lunar organics.
Of course even if they’d been there, they’d probably have
been destroyed by the extreme radiation environment. But we learned
a lot about how to handle materials to lower the organics, which I’m
sure JPL uses today when they prepare spacecraft to send to Mars for
the purpose of looking at organics still again. It wasn’t just
organics. You remember when we used to have tetraethyl lead in our
gasoline and lead was in paint. We humans really have concentrated
lead. Well, lead is a very important element in radioactive dating,
so we had lead contamination all over a lot of this early material
we sent. We learned how to reduce that kind of contamination, so there’s
a lot of the technology that’s been perfected and passed on.
He touched on it just a little bit, but I was going to ask about the
Stardust mission, what kind of controls they’ve placed on the
Stardust, a lot of that experience came because different organizations
have flown aircraft in the stratosphere for a long time collecting
dust. It was actually used way back in the ’50s and ’60s
to collect dust from radioactive fallout from weapons testing, to
understand a lot of global circulation, nature of the weapons and
so on. Then they realized that there’s things there other than
terrestrial particles. At JSC we’ve had what we call a Cosmic
Dust Program where aircraft, WB-57s, are flown out of Ames with special
filters on them. They aren’t opened up till they get in the
stratosphere, That material is brought back to Building 31 for curating
that kind of particle.
Those particles come from comets. So we developed a lot of the technique
and contamination control doing that kind of work. Stardust material
was just more of the same if you will, although JSC did build a separate
little lab for it. There’s a special little lab on the second
floor of 31 just for Stardust samples, just like we use part of the
old lunar facility for curating Martian meteorites and part of 31N
for curating the Genesis solar wind material. So it snowballs. What
we learn on one mission helps the next one.
That brought to mind we also have Dave McKay and the group that’s
involved there with the meteorites to find out whether they’re
Martian, or whatever. It uses similar facilities for doing that scientific
In fact I was on the founding advisory group of the Antarctic Search
for Meteorites. It’s a three-agency program now with NSF and
Smithsonian and NASA. We use some of our lunar-developed knowledge.
Of course the meteorites on the Antarctic ice are not pristine like
a lunar sample would be. On the other hand the ice doesn’t contaminate
them the same way as the hot desert meteorites that are found in Arabia
and North Africa. So we prepared special collecting materials including
Teflon bags for collecting meteorites.
We learned very early you can easily heat-seal Teflon. It’ll
take a lot of abuse on the outside. It’s a relatively simple
mass spectrum. It doesn’t interfere too much with an organic
analysis or with most inorganic analyses, so those kinds of useful
materials we learned.
In fact I’ll tell you this anecdote. A couple of technicians
and I went into the big cooler put in the building 37 room where the
Apollo spacecraft was originally placed. The medical directorate built
two big walk-in coolers, one at -40, one at 0. This was before we
sent the first crew to Antarctica with different kinds of plastics,
different kinds of tape, to collect samples. We wanted to test these
materials at -40, make sure that they had a bag that would stay flexible
to put the sample in that they could tape up. You would be amazed
how many different kinds of polymers, plastics become stiff as steel
at -40. You can hold a roll of really sticky tape, and it just unrolls
onto the floor.
Again Teflon bags were great. They remained flexible, so we learned
one other way we could use Teflon, namely when it’s -40. So
there’s a lot of interaction; this knowledge base that feeds
let me ask you. The samples now, I understand that we kept some of
them pristine for future analysis.
lunar materials. Is that still true?
most of the long term storage are of course out near White Sands [New
Mexico]. For some of the more diverse or interesting samples, a subsample
was taken with the intent of keeping it very long term and not using
it short term for analysis.
the San Antonio [Texas] stuff went to White Sands eventually?
it went there. We even had storage in Building 1 early on, a place
in one of the secure rooms up there, to store materials temporarily.
Before Apollo 11, we had given almost no thought to what happens when
the preliminary exam is over and the quarantine lifts. We were more
unprepared for that in many ways than we were for the Apollo 11 sample
Are the long term samples being stored in nitrogen?
in nitrogen. The cabinets don’t have gloves on them. They’re
sealed in such a way that you can purge them with nitrogen and basically
turn the nitrogen flow off, or very very low. They’re just like
a vacuum-sealed container on your grocer’s shelf. We go into
there very seldom.
let’s see. I think this was an outstanding session. So I thank
all you guys for coming and Don and Gary.
to thank you guys for this.