The Astromaterials Curation office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center has the responsibility for protecting, preserving, and distributing extraterrestrial samples in support of solar system exploration. These sample collections include lunar rocks and regoliths, or soils, returned by the Apollo missions, meteorites recovered by the US Antarctic Search for Meteorites including meteorites of both Lunar and Martian origin, dust particles collected from the stratosphere, particles of solar wind, and space exposed surfaces retrieved from satellites and spacecraft. Maintaining pristine samples is critical to extracting scientific information from these unique, and often very small, samples. Each sample collection has its own cleanroom with cleanliness levels of Class 1000 down to Class 10 particles per cubic foot and strict controls on cleansuits and materials that touch samples. It is equally important to make the collections available for scientific study and education, because it is these activities that give the samples their true value.
This office also builds on past experience in preparing for the acquisition of new extraterrestrial samples. Early collaboration with mission concept developers allows for the incorporation of this expertise on planning for sample handling and integrity. New technologies and techniques are being assessed to improve materials used to touch samples or in container seals, provide for handling of microsamples, and provide for manipulation and storage of samples at low temperature and low pressure. Research and technology projects are carried out within this office to advance the available techniques for handling and processing new types of samples. Recent additions to the astromaterials collection include samples from Comet Wild-2 collected by the Stardust mission and solar wind particles returned by the Genesis mission. Planning is underway to prepare for the new lunar samples expected in the coming decades as we return to the Moon as part of the Vision for Space Exploration and for the first returned samples from Mars.
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