An Article In Meteorite-Times Magazine
by Martin Horejsi of  Martin Horejsi's Meteorite and Tektite Books
 

 

The Astromaterials Curation Laboratory

at NASA's Johnson Space Center

This month, I would like to take you behind the scenes at the Astromaterials lab at JSC. A few years ago while at an ISS Educator training, I had the pleasure to change into clean-room garb, take an air shower, and spend an hour inside the multimillion dollar facility originally designed to recieve lunar material from the Apollo missions. The lab now has May purposes including the initial analysis and preperation of the meteorites recovered in Antarctica. Enjoy your trip.
 
 

Needless to say, but the value of the materials in this room easily make the dual combination locks and deadbolt lock a necessary importance. Especially after the thefts of lunar and martian material by some students a few years ago.


 

Stored in positive pressure glove-boxes, many Antarctic meteorites are carefully packaged in plastic bags.


 

Dave, one of the lucky few who works with cosmic rocks daily. Stainless steel is the rule here and all surfaces are clean enough to eat off of, not that you would want to.


 

Not your average enclosed-in-nitrogen meteorite saw. This rather elaborate band saw completely contains all dust and fragments foolish enough to try and escape during cutting. It runs very slowly without any coolents or lubricants, and uses a stainless steel blade coated with diamonds.


 

Working with materials with positive-pressure gloves takes some getting used to, but as I inspected some samples I could not help imagining all the amazing materials that spent time on the other side of the impact-resistant glass.


 

Former prisoners of the ice, these Antarctic residents now live in a world designed to preserve their life for as long as possible. This lab is a stark contrast to the hot, humid world outside in Houston, Texas.


 

Just another L5 chondrite. When Dave collected meteorites in the Queen Alexandria area of Antarctica, he brought back 1100 specimens. Most turned out to be L5s.


 

Stacked like leftovers in a bachelor’s refrigerator, Antarctic meteorites are again sitting in a deep freeze. Waiting like puppies at the pound, many specimens go on to participate in further research only when a scientist requests the material.


 

On display in this microscope glove box is none other than ALH84001! What a treat to get a microscopic inspection of one of the most famous meteorites in the world.


 

This is ALH84001 in person.


 

Here is another view of ALH84001 inside the microscope chamber. Two high-intensity light pipes provide plenty of illumination. I used to catch nightcrawlers for fishing using a flashlight at night following a rain storm. Maybe the bright lights will bring those cute little nano-worms from Mars up to the surface of the rock. Or Maybe not.


 

Like a kid in a candy store, I just couldn't take my eyes off the Mars rock. Although I had a week of training on the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle, the time spent looking at ALH84001 is at the top of my list of things that happened that week.


 

"Big Lew" is, well, big. Like a freakish monster stored in a special cage inside a rather unusual lab. It is easy to imagine all kinds of wild science fiction tales that could stem from this image. Rather, Big Lew is one of the largest chondrites, oriented no less, found in Antarctica by the US researchers.


 

Now that you have taken my tour, you can further your studies at the official Johnson Space Center Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility Webtour at:

http://www-curator.jsc.nasa.gov/lunar/tour/Welcome.htm

You can also learn about the specimens found in Antarctia at:

http://www-curator.jsc.nasa.gov/curator/antmet/us_clctn.htm

And search their database at:

http://sn-charon.jsc.nasa.gov/DBSearch/AntMet/MetClass-Form.asp

 


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