Finding 3R: The opportunity provided by the VSE to accomplish science, lunar and otherwise, is highly dependent for success on modernizing the technology and instrumentation available. The virtual lack of a lunar science program and no human exploration over the past 30 years have resulted in a severe lack of qualified instrumentation suitable for the lunar environment. Without such instrumentation, the full and promising potential of the VSE will not be realized.
Recommendation 3R: NASA, with the intimate involvement of the science community, should immediately initiate a program to develop and upgrade technology and instrumentation that will enable the full potential of the VSE. Such a program must identify the full set of requirements as related to achieving priority science objectives and prioritize these requirements in the context of programmatic constraints. In addition, NASA should capitalize on its technology development investments by providing a clear path into flight development.
The NASA system of sample documentation and curation established for the Apollo program has been remarkably successful in protecting samples from contamination, providing ample materials for scientific investigations, preserving materials for later studies, and maintaining configuration control of the collection so that analyses of subsamples can be reliably related to the samples from which they were derived or to other subsamples. It has also been the model on which the means of documentation, preservation, and subsampling of Antarctic meteorites, cosmic dust, and Stardust and Genesis samples were based. The Apollo lunar samples have always been treated as if they were the last samples that might be retrieved from the Moon. The Vision for Space Exploration offers the possibility of collecting many more samples from the Moon, from a much wider variety of locations. This potentially includes the collection of samples from much more extreme environments than was possible during Apollo: examples are cryogenic samples from shadowed polar craters, samples preserved in lunar vacuum conditions, or electrostatically levitated dust. There is also the potential to return additional samples of human-made materials exposed to the lunar environment, which will be of scientific interest (for astrobiology and planetary protection) as well as engineering interest. It is important to re-evaluate the curatorial functions for lunar samples in light of the new opportunities and capabilities of the Vision for Space Exploration. Historically NASA has successfully involved the broad science community—for example, the Curation and Analysis Planning Team for Extraterrestrial Materials (CAPTEM) to assist it in such evaluations and assessments.
It is well to remember the principal objectives of proper extraterrestrial sample preservation: (1) to preserve information on the relationship of the sample to its original environment on the planetary body; (2) to ensure that samples, once collected and returned to Earth, are both available to study and preserved for future scientific investigations, which may be more rigorous with regard to precision, scale, and degree of contamination; and (3) to protect samples from unfavorable contamination due to handling techniques or exposure to the terrestrial environment.
This preservation process must begin on the Moon, with the collection, documentation, and packaging of samples. Documentation of the original collection location must be accomplished by crewmembers on the surface, provided with adequate documentation tools. During Apollo, the orientation of some rocks proved important in some studies of the lunar radiation environment. It will be especially important to document any samples collected in situ, that is, from outcrops, rather than loose materials in the regolith. Several samples from the same outcrop might be collected to study its internal variations, which must be kept separate if their original relations (position, orientation) to the outcrop are to be preserved. It proved close to impossible to preserve Apollo samples in lunar vacuum conditions (although there were few, if any, vacuum chambers on Earth that could be used to study samples maintained at lunar vacuum), because of problems of dust on container seals. Documentation of the deployment and functioning of special sample collection and containment devices, which will undoubtedly be developed for particular samples (such as cryogenic samples from the poles), and provision for transferring these samples to Earth, will be needed. The consideration of these requirements should be incorporated into the design of surface exploration tools provided to lunar crews.