Kay Tobola, ST Science Writer Visiting the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility

by Kay Tobola, ST Science Writer

Scientists who have done research on lunar samples, students who have seen Moon rocks on display in museums, NASA employees who worked on the missions, and people who remember where they were on July 20, 1969, all share a connection to the lunar samples returned during the Apollo era. The Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility is the unique place where these geologic samples are physically protected, environmentally preserved, and scientifically processed. Located in Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) building 31N, it is a popular place that visiting scientists often request to see. Certainly there is the cool factor of being where the samples are stored, of seeing the rocks being readied for shipment to research sites, and of talking with the people who work with the rocks daily. These samples are tangible evidence of an exciting time in human space exploration. In addition, the visitor sees firsthand the efforts taken to keep the samples ready for continuing research. The work environment and procedures are observable and consistent with the present scientific importance of the samples.

Astronaut footprint on Lunar surface

The Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility can be visited in two ways. Most accessible and easiest is a "virtual tour" online. The curator's tour Web site is available to everyone all the time. A visitor can see the labs and the people who work here, as well as lunar samples. This well-designed tour conveys the feeling of being here. The information is complete with important details and friendly anecdotes. Just curious or planning a trip to JSC, this is the first and most available way to see the Lunar Sample Lab. The Web site is /lunar/laboratory_tour.cfm.

Scientists visiting JSC are encouraged to see the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility using the Visitor Viewing Area. This room is attached to but outside of the Pristine Sample Lab (PSL). Through viewing windows visiting scientists are able to see the pristine lab, core and saw area, and air showers.

Lunar surface

Beyond the PSL, the sample vault can be seen. A visitor gets a sense of the workspace and precautions taken to keep the samples uncontaminated and ready for researchers. People closely associated with the lab conduct the tours. A visiting scientist may have the opportunity to talk with employees, such as Andrea Mosie, Linda Watts, or Carol Schwarz, who have been working in the Lunar Sample Laboratory since it was built in 1979. If you have worked with a lunar sample, they probably had a hand--a gloved hand--in getting it to you. They answer science and technical questions, give a historical perspective, and share an enthusiasm about the work they do. The tour may be conducted by curation managers, Carl Agee, Carl Allen, or Gary Lofgren, who are ultimately responsible for the maintenance of the facility and its impact on the scientific community. Education and public outreach staff, Marilyn Lindstrom (former JSC meteorite curator) and Jackie Allen, also conduct these tours. The viewing area includes an exhibit that gives historical perspective and the scientific importance of the work done here. Using the Visitor Viewing Area allows an in person tour, up close and personal, without the cost of time and materials that is required when visitors enter the lab. Please note that this area is not handicap accessible. These tours are available for visiting scientists on request by contacting Gary Lofgren at 281-483-6187. Non-U.S. citizens need to request a tour at least six weeks ahead of time.

Lunar samples are a national treasure; no cost amount can be associated with them. The Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility is the place where these treasures are kept safe and ready for future scientific investigation. A visit online or in person is a rewarding experience. Visiting scientists, treat yourselves!