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A Rare Glimpse of NASA’s Otherworldly Treasures

At Johnson Space Center, south of Houston, Texas, there’s a nondescript building that contains things you won’t find anywhere else in the world. And some things you might find, but you wouldn’t know their significance. Building 31 has laboratories containing a curious and carefully curated collection of objects from outer space. There are rocks brought back from the moon by Apollo astronauts, meteorites from Mars, particles from the tail of a comet, and a precious but tiny amount of solar wind particles.  

NASA keeps some of its most sensitive samples in the “Genesis” lab, which has the most rigorous cleanliness protocols of any facility at the space center. The Genesis lab houses particles from the solar wind, essentially tiny bits of the Sun which hold clues about the composition of the solar nebula at the time when the planets formed.

That morning we had been instructed to not wear wedding rings, nor scented deodorant. In the anteroom we had donned gloves, booties, and hair nets. In the “gowning” room, we had put on masks, full-body polyester suits, head covers, boots over the body suit and booties, and a second pair of gloves. Also, they’d taken my notepad and given me “clean” paper—once inside I’d receive a clean Sharpie pen. Nor did our photography equipment escape the cleanroom regime: we had to spend several minutes rubbing down cameras and lenses and tripods with alcohol wipes until the scientists were satisfied that the devices were reasonably dust-free.

After this entire process, we asked if the lab gets a lot of visitors. “I don’t take people in,” Allton, the lab's curator, said. “You guys are special. The main reason is, people are dirty.”

The general public doesn’t have access to those samples, but we can see them anyway. Ars Technica took plenty of photographs and notes on their exclusive tour to share with us. While the photos are fascinating, the best part of the article are the stories of how these outer space samples came to be there. -via Metafilter

(Image credit: Lee Hutchinson)


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