Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of Apollo Lunar Exploration Missions


Releasing the Samples

Activity in the receiving laboratory remained at a high level.during August, aimed at releasing the samples in mid-September. Two batches of material were prepared for biological examination. A "bioprime" sample, taken from the two core tubes, went to the biological section on July 27, to be examined for evidence of living organisms or their relics. A "biopool" sample, comprising several hundred grams of the "fines" plus chips taken from the lunar rocks in the bulk sample container, provided the material that would be tested in numerous living systems to determine its toxicity or pathogenicity.75 The pooled sample was prepared the following week, and the extensive biological test protocols got under way.76

Throughout August the daily LRL summary reports indicated no observable effects in the biological tests. Lunar material was injected into germ-free mice, cultured to detect growth of microorganisms and viruses, and otherwise introduced into both plant and animal species. In no case was any effect noted that indicated a hazard for earth organisms. Gross and microscopic investigation of exposed systems showed only minor and localized abnormalities, if any. No exotic microorganisms appeared in the cultures. One interesting observation was that the lunar samples stimulated growth in some of the plants tested.77

The Interagency Committee on Back Contamination reviewed the evidence from the biological tests and concluded that the material returned by Apollo 11 was biologically harmless. The committee notified MSC Director Robert Gilruth that he could release the samples at noon on September 12.78 Principal investigators began picking up their allotted samples in person at the lunar receiving laboratory, as required by their contracts, and the detailed investigation of lunar material began.79 Many investigators, however, needed specimens (such as thin sections of rock) that required time to prepare, and sample distribution was only completed several weeks after initial release.80

75. "Apollo 11 LTD Daily Summary Report, 1200 July 26 to 1200 July 27"; Wilmot N. Hess, "LRL Summary Report No. 7," July 31, 1969.

76. A summary of the investigations is found in Johnston et al., Biomedical Results of Apollo, pp. 425-34.

77. MSC, "Sample Information Summary #5 Final," Aug. 27, 1969, p. 13; see also LRL Summary Reports for Aug. 1 through Aug. 31.

78. J. W. Humphreys, Jr., to Dir., MSC, "Release of all lunar material and lunar exposed material in Building 37, Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, Texas," Sept. 11, 1969.

79. Rocco A. Petrone, TWX to Gilruth, "Approval of MSC proposed allocation of Apollo 11 lunar sample material for distribution to approved principal investigators for scientific analysis," Sept. 9, 1969; Petrone, TWX to Gilruth, "Release of lunar samples," Sept. 12, 1969; NASA Hqs., "Moon Surface Samples Distributed," Release No. 69-130, Sept. 12, 1969.

80. Richard A. Wright, "Lunar and Earth Sciences weekly activity report," Oct. 17, 1969.