Where No Man Has Gone Before, Ch8-4


Lunar Receiving Laboratory

Construction of the lunar receiving laboratory was virtually complete by the middle of 1967; Hess held a press conference to open the new facility on June 29.18 For the rest of the year and much of 1968, NASA and Brown & Root-Northrop, support contractor responsible for operating the laboratory, were occupied with installation and testing of the specialized equipment required for quarantine testing and sample handling. Brown & Root-Northrop set up training programs for the technicians who would do much of the work in the laboratory. In April 1968, to assure coordination of effort between quarantine studies and scientific investigations, the two MSC directorates principally involved - medical research and operations and science and applications - began holding monthly meetings on the status and problems of the receiving laboratory.19 MSC officials planned an operational readiness inspection for the last quarter of 1968, and contemplated partial and complete simulations as soon as they could begin, to exercise the laboratory's functions and uncover flaws in equipment and procedures.20

As could be expected for a facility of such complexity, many technical problems arose in the lunar receiving laboratory during the installation and testing of its equipment. Both in the sample-handling area and in the biological laboratories, difficulties slowed progress until late summer.21 By mid- September, however, problems with autoclaves (pressure vessels for sterilizing items to be transferred out of the biological containment area) were the only serious concern. Laboratory managers prepared and sent to the MSC director a request to appoint an Operational Readiness Inspection Board for the receiving laboratory.22

While awaiting completion of the laboratory, scientists on the preliminary examination team and the lunar sample analysis planning team were busy defining their procedures and preparing for simulations.23 Both teams met at Houston frequently during 1968 to discuss issues of importance in operation of the laboratory and to maintain liaison with the principal investigators. For the outside members of these teams, many of whom were university researchers, preparations for the laboratory work to follow the first lunar landing entailed a considerable sacrifice of time from their normal duties.24 Simulations would require from 10 to 30 consecutive days of work in the laboratory.

Late in October the science teams gathered in Houston to conduct a training session and simulation of operations in the sample-receiving and -processing sections of the receiving laboratory.25 The 10-day exercise uncovered 82 major and minor faults in equipment. A substantial number of these impaired effective operation of the vacuum system in which the sample return containers were opened. The vacuum chamber, like most of the other cabinets that comprised the primary biological barrier, was a "glove box," designed so that various tools, stored inside, could be manually manipulated through a pair of impermeable gloves built into the chamber wall. The gloves had to withstand a pressure difference of around 100 kilopascals (15 pounds per square inch - a high vacuum inside and normal atmospheric pressure outside); consequently they were stiff, making it difficult for the operator to use the small hand tools with any dexterity and sensitivity. The simulation also revealed that the viewing ports left blind spots for the operator in some corners of the chamber. These and other problems necessitated more than 80 major and minor changes to the system and procedures before a full mission simulation could be conducted some time in early 1969.26 MSC established a configuration control board for the receiving laboratory to pass on proposed changes and keep nonessential ones from proliferating.27

By October 1968 sufficient progress had been made to conduct an operational readiness inspection - a mandatory procedure for all MSC facilities. MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth appointed a 10-person committee to review the facilities, staffing, and operational plans.28 After an initial meeting in early November and a complete briefing two weeks later, committee members spent a month scrutinizing physical facilities, staffing and personnel training, and operational procedures.29 The committee's recommendations, submitted in mid-December, included 72 mandatory and 91 desirable changes necessary to render the laboratory acceptable for operation.30

Preparations for a 30-day simulation of receiving laboratory operations, scheduled for March and April, occupied most of the early months of 1969. In the interim between the operational readiness inspection and the simulation, laboratory staff and contractor employees worked to iron out the remaining problems.

18. MSC, "Lunar Receiving Laboratory Briefing," transcript of presentation, June 29, 1967; MSC, "Annual Report for Calendar Year 1967, The Directorate of Medical Research and Operations, Manned Spacecraft Center," n.d. [Dec. 1967].

19. Edgar M. Cortright to Gilruth, Mar. 27, 1968; Hess to Dir., Medical Research & Operations, "Initiation of monthly review meetings on LRL," Mar. 29, 1968.

20. Hess to multiple addressees, "Preliminary Examination Team Simulation Tests and Full Scale LRL Simulation," Aug. 20, 1968.

21. Gilruth to Charles W. Mathews, May 17, 1968; Minutes, Monthly LRL Reviews, June 10, July 1, Aug. 12, 1968.

22. MSC, "Minutes of Monthly LRL Review," Sept. 16, 1968; John E. Pickering, "Trip Report [to LRL monthly manager's review]," Sept. 18, 1968.

23. P. R. Bell to Martin Favero, June 18, 1968; "[Minutes,] Lunar Science Analysis Planning Team, July 26 [1968]"; Hess to multiple addressees, "Preliminary Examination Team Simulation Tests and Full Scale LRL Simulation," Aug. 20, 1968.

24. Gilruth to Edward H. Levi (Univ. of Chicago), Feb. 25, 1969.

25. Bell to Members of Preliminary Examination Team, "The Preliminary Examination Team simulation and training session, October 22 through November 1, 1968," Oct. 16, 1968.

26. Test dir., vacuum laboratory, "Report on PET Simulation, October 25-30, 1968," Oct. 31, 1968; Bell to Dir., Science and Applications, "LRL Equipment and System Problems," Nov. 7, 1968.

27. Hess to L. R. Scherer, "Changes in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Dec. 6, 1968; Hess to LRL Staff, "Configuration Control Board (CCB)," Dec. 6, 1968.

28. Gilruth to multiple addressees, "Operational Readiness Inspection of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Oct. 21, 1968.

29. Peter J. Armitage to multiple addressees: "Minutes of the First ORI Committee Meeting for the Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Nov. 5, 1968; "Minutes of the Second ORI Committee Meeting for the Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Nov. 22, 1968; "Minutes of the Third ORI Committee Meeting for the Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Dec. 4, 1968; "Minutes of the Fourth ORI Committee Meeting for the Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Dec. 4, 1968; "Status of the Operational Readiness Inspection on the Lunar Receiving Laboratory and the Recovery Quarantine Equipment," Dec. 19, 1968; "Minutes of the Fifth ORI Committee Meeting for the Lunar Receiving Laboratory," Dec. 23, 1968.

30. Armitage, "Final Report, Operational Readiness Inspection of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory and Recovery Quarantine Equipment," May 7, 1969.

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