In late May 2012 I flew to Houston, Texas for a quick business trip and
had a free afternoon. Not wanting to do the typical tourism, I decided to
call a friend at the Johnson Space Center to see if he was available for lunch
or to get together. My friend is distinguished scientist, Dr. Everett K. Gibson,
Senior Scientist and Astrobiologist from the Astromaterials Research Office.
It is located in the Lunar Curatorial's Return Sample Facility in Building 31 at NASA Johnson Space Center.
He answered the phone without delay and, instead of lunch, he invited me up to his
office and would give me a special tour of his labs and the ultra secure lunar and planetary vault
that holds some of America's national treasures, the actual moon rocks
brought back to Earth during the Apollo missions. What an honor and privilige!
I quickly agreed to drive up in a cab.
Upon arriving, Everett took me to several of the laboratories and introduced me
to many of his colleagues. While walking the halls on the special tour, we ran
into Dr. Michael Zolensky who I met several times in past years and occasionally
supply him with special meteorites upon request. He said he was heading to his microprobe
lab where he had a sample from the Sutter's Mill carbonaceous chondrite that should be
ready to decipher the data from the last analysis run. It was pretty exciting to sit down
next to him and his colleague listening to them determine what the analysis
revealed from this very special meteorite. I had just been hunting for meteorites at
Sutter's Mill just days prior to this visit.
Everett then took me to the special vault room that all of us want to visit, the Apollo
'Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility'! After going through several secure clean rooms
and gearing up in our white 'bunny suits' to keep from bringing in contaminants, we were led
into the inner sanctum. Here Everett introduced me to two more collegues, Dr. Andrea Mosie,
Senior Processor in the Lunar Curatorial Laboratory and Dr. Ryan Ziegler, Lunar Curator.
Without hesitation, many moon rocks were brought out for me to inspect and be dazzled by.
Several were encased in Acrylic or glass containers from early-year experiments in preservation
and display. In the vault was also many samples from the coveted Martian meteorite, ALH84001.
This spontaneous trip to visit a friend was turning into a once in a lifetime dream come true!!
While in the vault, I was able to observe through a glass dividing window the ultra clean room where scientists
were working on different moon rocks for use in specialized experiments. I was told that it can take
months or years for scientists to have access to that most inner clean room. If the room had not been
occupied, I was told I would have been taken in there as well. Naturally I suggested that I could
possibly come back at a later date for that special tour. I was assured that 'would' happen some day
and to plan for it!
I had an amazing afternoon that day and felt like an honored guest. Thank you, Everett!