|NASA Lunar Samples – NASA Image|
NASA’s collection of astromaterials include lunar rock and soil samples; meteorites from asteroids, Mars, and the Moon; ions from the outer layers of the Sun (Genesis); dust from comets and interstellar space (Stardust); and cosmic dust from Earth’s stratosphere.
The origins of NASA’s astromaterial collection are varied. Lunar samples were returned to Earth during the 1969–1972 Apollo missions; meteorites were obtained as a result of the Antarctic Search for Meteorites Program begun in 1977; solar wind was collected during the 2001 Genesis mission; NASA’s Stardust spacecraft – launched in 1999 – collected cometary and interstellar dust particles; and cosmic grains and orbital debris from the stratosphere have been collected by high-flying aircraft since 1981.
According to the Inspector General report, NASA lacks sufficient controls over its loans of moon rocks and other astromaterials, which increases the risk that these unique resources may be lost. Specifically, the Inspector General found that Curation Office records were inaccurate, researchers could not account for all samples loaned to them, and researchers held samples for extended periods without performing research or returning the samples to NASA.
The Inspector General found that these conditions occurred for several reasons. First, the Curation Office did not require loan agreements or have in place other internal procedures for safeguarding loans of meteorites and cosmic dust samples. Loan agreements specify the conditions for the loan and include security plans prescribing precautions for guarding against theft or unauthorized use of astromaterial samples.
Second, the Office did not consistently follow its inventory procedures for astromaterial samples. For example, the Inspector General found that although NASA policy required an annual inventory from holders of loaned materials, the Curation Office did not consistently request these inventories. In fact, the Office had never requested inventories of Stardust samples and, prior to our audit, had not requested inventories of lunar samples held at locations other than Johnson since 2008. Additionally, we found that the Office’s inventory practices depend on (1) the type of sample in question and (2) whether borrowers store samples at Johnson.
Third, the Curation Office’s annual inventory procedures are inadequate and do not account for all loaned samples. Specifically, to have researchers verify the samples they hold, the Office provides them with a list based on its records and requests they confirm its accuracy. We believe that an example of a more reliable inventory method would be to request that researchers provide the Office with a list of the samples in their possession and then reconcile the researchers’ lists with Agency records. In addition, the Curation Office said that due to funding constraints it has not performed a complete physical inventory of all lunar samples loaned to researchers since the 1980s.
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