Lunar Receiving Laboratory Operations

The modifications to equipment and procedures [see Chapter 10] necessitated by experience with Apollo 11 were completed and the Lunar Receiving Laboratory was ready for operations before Apollo 12 left the launch pad.39 When the sample containers arrived in Houston, the one containing the documented samples was transferred to the biological laboratory to be opened under sterile nitrogen, while the bulk sample container was opened in the vacuum system. The first quick look showed that Conrad and Bean had selected larger rocks than Armstrong and Aldrin did, and that there were noticeable differences: the Apollo 12 samples were almost entirely igneous, whereas the earlier specimens had contained about 75 percent breccia (rocks formed by compaction without alteration).40 Still more samples arrived with the astronauts on November 29. Lacking room in the sample return containers, Conrad had brought back several large rocks as well as the Surveyor parts in the command module.41

After samples were taken for biological testing,42 the Preliminary Examination Team began its work. This time they concentrated on description and photographic documentation of the contents of the rock boxes, saving detailed examination until later, so that the Lunar Sample Analysis Planning Team could begin its work earlier. During this preliminary examination a small cut appeared in one of the chamber gloves. The incident was treated as a "spill" of lunar material that contaminated the laboratory and sent 11 people into quarantine, including several scientists from the Preliminary Examination Team.43 Providing quarters for that many additional people presented a problem, but by putting extra beds in the available rooms and using the Mobile Quarantine Facility (which could be connected with the Crew Reception Area), all were accommodated. The scientists were disappointed in being cut off from work with the samples, but preliminary examination continued Without them.44

Other than the fault in the chamber glove, operations in the receiving laboratory went smoothly. A week after the samples were returned, all had been inventoried and given preliminary examination, the sample for biological testing had been prepared, and two samples had been delivered to the radiation counting laboratory for assay of low-level radioactivity.45

By mid-December scientists in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory had determined some of the' basic characteristics of the Apollo 12 samples. Some members of the site selection board had objected to the Apollo 12 site on the grounds that it was too much like Apollo 11's [see Chapter 10], but these analyses showed otherwise. Chemically, the rocks from both sites were similar, containing the same elements but in somewhat different proportions. Only two rocks from Apollo 12 were breccias, however, which predominated in the Apollo 11 samples. Many of the igneous rocks returned by Apollo 12 were very coarse grained, suggesting that they might have crystallized slowly, probably at considerable depth. While the Apollo 11 samples had been notably rich in titanium, those from Apollo 12 were not. Both types were deficient in volatile elements. Olivine comprised only about 10 percent of the first samples but was abundant in the second set.46 Petrological examination indicated that the Apollo 12 rocks had crystallized at a high temperature.47 Preliminary potassium-argon dating suggested that the samples from Oceanus Procellarum had solidified some 2.2 to 2.6 billion years ago, compared to about 4 billion years for those from the Tranquility site.48 Detailed results from the work of principal investigators would not be available for some months, but these preliminary findings provoked considerable discussion at the first Lunar Science Conference the following month.

Elsewhere in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, the crew and their companions in confinement had an uneventful three weeks. Debriefings by engineers and scientists took up several hours a day for the first week; preparing the pilot's report required much of the next, and they were grateful to have the uninterrupted time to complete this chore. Visits by their families - through the glass wall in the conference room - plus television and movies and the occasional game of pool or Ping-Pong, provided some diversion. Conrad worked on assembling an FM receiver kit but did not complete it. The scientists managed to get some samples passed in to them in the crew reception area and were able to continue work on the samples to a limited extent. They also got the chance to discuss the lunar traverses with Conrad and Bean, using photographs as they became available.49

Periodic medical evaluations showed no change in the condition of either the crews or the quarantined scientists, and on December 10, 36 hours before the quarantine officially ended, they were released, to be kept under medical surveillance until biological tests on the samples showed them to be no threat to life on earth.50

Throughout December those tests continued as the Apollo 12 samples were exposed to dozens of plant and animal species. Meanwhile the examination and characterization of the lunar rocks and soil continued, and the Lunar Sample Analysis Planning Team began the task of matching investigators' requirements with the samples. Release of material to outside researchers was scheduled as soon as the biological tests were completed, expected in early January 1970.

39. Leo T. Zbanek, "Weekly Activity Report, Engineering Division, November 13, 1969"; Richard A. Wright to TA/Special Asst., "Weekly Activity Report," Nov. 14, 1969.

40. Wright to TA/Dir., Science and Applications, "Weekly Activities Report," Nov. 27, 1969.

41. "Lunar Receiving Laboratory Daily Report, 1400 hours 11-28-69 to 1400 hours 11-29-69," Nov. 29, 1969; J. L. Warner, "Apollo 12 Sample Inventory," Dec. 5, 1969.

42. Bryan Erb to DC/Chief, Preventive Medicine Div., "Selection of lunar samples for biological testing," Nov. 29, 1969.

43. "Lunar Receiving Laboratory Daily Report, 1400 hours 12-1-60 to 1400 hours 12-2-69," Dec. 2, 1969; Charles A. Berry, "Findings and Determinations of Extraterrestrial Exposure and Quarantine of Particular Person(s), Property, Animal(s), or Other Form(s) of Life or Matter," Dec. 1, 1969.

44. MSC, "Containment Fault Press Conference," Dec. 1, 1969, transcript; "Apollo 12 Ward Status Report," transcript of press conf., Dec. 2, 1969.

45. MSC, "LRL Operational Summary, Apollo 12, November 24 to December 6, 1969," Dec. 6, 1969.

46. Ross Taylor, "Comparison Between Apollo 11 Samples from Mare Tranquillitatis and Apollo 12 Samples from Oceanus Procellarum," Dec. 8, 1969; MSC, "Lunar Receiving Laboratory Daily Report, 1400 hours 12-10-69 to 1400 hours 12-11-69," Dec. 11, 1969.

47. MSC, "LRL Operational Summary, Apollo 12, Dec. 6 to Dec. 13, 1969," Dec. 13, 1969.

48. MSC, "Lunar Receiving Laboratory Daily [sic] Report, 1400 hours 12-12-69 to 1400 hours, 12-18-69," Dec. 18, 1969; John Noble Wilford, "Apollo 12 Samples Appear to Be Younger," New York Times, Dec. 13, 1969.

49. MSC, "Lunar Receiving Laboratory Reports," transcripts of press briefings, Nov. 25-Dec. 10, 1969, box 079-16, JSC History Office Apollo files.

50. Berry to Maj. Gen. J. W. Humphreys, Jr., TWX, Dec 8, 1969; Berry to Chairman, Interagency Committee on Back Contamination, "Recommendation for Release of Apollo XII Crew and Crew Reception Area from Personnel Quarantine," Dec. 9, 1969; Humphreys, TWX to MSC, Dec. 9, 1969; W. Garter Alexander, "Quarantine Release Report No. 3," n.d. [Dec. 8, 1969]; Humphreys to MSC, attn.: Director and Dir. of Medical Research and Operations, "Release of Personnel from CRA/LRL," Dec. 10, 1969.

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