Qualifying the Lunar Receiving Laboratory

Though Apollo was conceived in 1960 and the lunar mission commitment initiated in 1961, it was not until 1964 that NASA recognised the need for a suitable facility to process lunar samples, reducing any associated risks (from the rocks or the astronauts) of contamination. Initially, a very modest facility was considered, whose origins date back to 1959. In fact, it was nothing more than a clean room in which lunar material could be packed in a vacuum, leaving the more complex experiments and investigations on the samples to principal investigators, who would apply for a load of lunar material for their research.

This plan for a "simple" Lunar Sample Receiving Laboratory evolved over the next few years into something much more complex, where initial data would be collected and experiment work collated, while protecting it against potential "back contamination'' from the human crew and human-built machinery and equipment sent to the Moon. Construction for the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (or LRL) as it was later called, began in the summer of 1966 and was completed in late September 1967. It was designated Building 37 and would eventually house a geology laboratory, a biological laboratory, the astronaut quarantine facility and associated support rooms and services. Built and certified in time for Apollo 11, it supported the preliminary sample examination from all the Apollo missions, although the astronaut quarantine rules were relaxed for Apollo 12 and terminated after Apollo 14 in 1971. The LRL had to pass a lengthy certification process before it was deemed safe and usable. As an early step in this certification process, which did not always run smoothly, the Director of MSC, Robert Gilruth, established an Operations Readiness Inspection Team in October 1968, which was headed by John Hodge. Joe Kerwin served on this team,representing the Astronaut Office, until the formal

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review of the facility on 3 February 1969. During that review, and a six-week practice session by the LRL staff that followed it, problems were discovered that required additional committees and work before it could be declared operational and ready to receive the first landing crew.3

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