NEA Sample Return Seminar: Apr 23, 2018

Lecturer: Marc Fries, NASA Johnson Space Center

Dr. Fries is the Curator of NASA’s Cosmic Dust collection and a planetary scientist specializing in carbon in geological systems. He studies the formation and petrologic/chemical history of carbonaceous species as a means of describing the history of the parent rock. This course of research includes study of reduced carbon phases in meteorites, analysis of fluid inclusions in various rock types, analysis of carbon structure in ancient microfossils as well as shock metamorphism of diamond and other high-P,T phases in impact materials. Dr. Fries served as an investigator on the Stardust Preliminary Examination Team, interpreting the formation and metamorphic history of carbonaceous materials in samples from the comet 81P/Wild 2. He served as Principal Investigator for the Strata-1 experiment on regolith dynamics in microgravity, which was a Class 1E mission to the International Space Station. Dr. Fries also studies the use of Doppler weather radar as a tool for investigating and quickly locating meteorite falls.

Topic: Curating returned samples

The NASA Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office, or “NASA Curation”, is the past, present, and future home for NASA astromaterials collections. This includes the Apollo lunar sample collection, a large collection of Antarctic meteorites co-curated with the Smithsonian Institution, returned samples of cometary material from the Stardust mission, solar wind collected by the Genesis mission, cosmic dust collected in Earth’s stratosphere, and hardware from a variety of missions that has been returned from space. The Curation office cares for these collections, monitors their condition, and loans material on request to investigators around the world.

For sample return missions, curation begins during mission planning. Contamination Control (CC) and Contamination Knowledge (CK) plans are devised, requirements are drawn up for construction of the curation cleanroom(s), disposition of samples is defined, operations planning is performed for a Preliminary Examination of returned samples, along with other aspects of a samples return mission. NASA Curation personnel assist with this, and an official mission Curator is named. Mission planning includes meeting requirements for Planetary Protection, and those requirements are different depending on the nature of the Solar System body and the mission itself. The mission must be designed to meet science goals defined while the mission is still in the proposal stage, which may then be refined through early-phase studies. Some missions may require research for curation aspects, such as for preservation of cold samples during a comet sample return mission, or biological contamination prevention for Mars sample return. After the mission is complete, curation of the returned samples continues for the foreseeable future.

Recommended Readings:

An abstract that briefly describes the current collections as well as future curation efforts, or “Advanced Curation”:

The NASA Curation website, with information about all of the collections:

For a good description of Contamination Control and Contamination Knowledge:

A description of curation and post-flight operations of the Stardust mission, as an example of typical modern sample return:

Recorded talk: click to view