The samples of rock and soil brought back from the moon would be a priceless scientific resource, and for scientists to be able to extract the maximum information from them, the samples would have to be carefully protected. Minute traces of earthborne contaminants could lead to completely erroneous interpretations of laboratory results. In 1964 scientists at the Manned Spacecraft Center proposed that NASA provide a laboratory in which lunar samples would be cataloged and subjected to preliminary examination, so that the requirements of principal investigators for specific types of material could be met. There were, as well, certain time-critical examinations that would have to be done as soon as possible after the samples were returned to earth.

To provide for these requirements would have required only a modest facility. But as plans for managing the samples developed, NASA came under pressure from space biologists and the U.S. Public Health Service to protect the earth against the introduction of alien microorganisms that might exist in lunar soil. What would have been a small laboratory designed to protect lunar samples against contamination grew into an elaborate, expensive quarantine facility that greatly complicated operations on the early lunar landing missions.

Previous Next Index