In 2006, the Stardust sample return capsule (SRC) returned to Earth at the Utah Test and Training Range, and was immediately flown to the newly constructed Stardust Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center. Once safely at JSC, the canister was opened and the aerogel and its comet and interstellar dust harvest were inspected.
The environment for SRC opening and initial inspections was continuously monitored. The SRC contents, including the aerogel and the samples embedded in it, were maintained in an ISO Class 5 cleanroom environment throughout the initial sample processing. Particulate and non-volatile residue (NVR) witness plates were used to monitor the environment during the times aerogel was open to the laboratory air, and monitored daily for visible particulate contamination.
The remaining portions of the SRC are curated in Space-Exposed Hardware Laboratory for characterization of the effects of exposure to contamination and the space environment, including surveys of the micrometeorite impact record.