Dr. Carlton Allen, Astromaterials Curator


Acquisition and Curation

at JSC

by Carlton Allen

Astromaterials Curator

Manager, Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office


This has been a truly challenging year for the NASA family.  The tragic loss of the Columbia crew and spacecraft is always with us, as is NASA’s primary goal to resume flying humans safely in space.  Within the JSC Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office we are facing other challenges including an expanded mandate, new samples and missions, increasing security concerns, and changes in the staff.


NASA Policy Directive 7100.10 assigns the Johnson Space Center authority to curate the Apollo lunar samples.  A recent revision, NPD 7100.10D, expands our mandate to include “the curation of all extraterrestrial material under NASA control, including future NASA missions.”

Lunar Samples

NASA policy requires that a portion of the lunar sample collection must be stored at a location remote from JSC.  For many years 14 percent of the collection was stored at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.  Last year the security status of these samples changed, as portions of the base were transferred to the city.  In response, a laboratory was constructed at the NASA White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico and the Remote Lunar Sample collection was successfully relocated.

Antarctic Meteorites

The joint NASA / National Science Foundation / Smithsonian Institution Antarctic Search for Meteorites program is over 25 years old.  During the 2002-2003 Antarctic summer two field teams in different parts of the continent collected a total of over 900 samples, including two new lunar meteorites.

Cosmic Dust

Stratospheric sampling flights during the past year included two campaigns to collect dust from specific comets.  Missions were flown during the Leonid Shower (comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle) in 2002 and during Earth’s predicted crossing of the dust steam from comet Grigg-Skjellerup in 2003.

New Missions

Three sample return missions are currently in space.  Genesis, collecting solar wind atoms at the Earth-Sun L1 libration point, is scheduled to return to Earth in September 2004.   Stardust will encounter comet Wild-2 in January 2004 and return comet and interstellar dust particles to Earth in January 2006.  Hayabusa (formerly Muses-C) was launched by the Japanese Space Agency on a mission to sample asteroid Itokawa and return to Earth in 2007.

Proposal Opportunities

Ideas and proposals for future sample return missions continue to be developed.  The New Frontiers program Announcement of Opportunity, issued this fall, includes specific requests for proposed sampling missions to the lunar farside and the surface of a comet.  The next Discovery program Announcement of Opportunity, expected this winter or next spring, will be another opportunity for low-cost sample return proposals.  A new opportunity to propose Mars Scout missions, including sample returns, is expected in time to support launch early in the next decade.


Last year a safe containing lunar samples and meteorites was stolen from a JSC research laboratory.  Thanks to a tip from a foreign mineral collector, the FBI and NASA security recovered the samples and arrested the perpetrators.  As a result of this theft, physical security in the Curatorial laboratories has been increased and access to some laboratories has been curtailed.


Dale Browne, responsible for lunar sample loans, inventory, and security agreements with Investigators, retired after nearly four decades of NASA service.

David and Marilyn Lindstrom left JSC this fall for permanent assignments in the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA Headquarters.

Mary Drake, an Administrative Officer recently transferred from JSC’s Structural Engineering Division, has taken over Dale Browne’s duties and the position of Educational Samples Curator.

Kevin Righter, a planetary geologist and recent post-doctoral fellow at the University of Arizona, joined JSC as the Curator for Antarctic Meteorites.

Norma Ramirez, a Lockheed Martin employee with a background in calibration, has joined the Curatorial technician staff.

We in the Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office continue our core missions providing samples of extraterrestrial material to the international science and education communities and curating these unique samples for future generations.  We welcome your comments and sample requests and look forward to the results of your research.