"I don't want to criticize those who worked on the Apollo mission or the curators who have managed these samples since their return to Earth, as everybody involved worked diligently to minimize contamination," Elsila added. "This work shows how hard it is to completely eliminate contamination, and that is a lesson that should be taken to heart by future sample return missions, both lunar and to other solar system bodies."
This is something especially in the minds of the OSIRIS-Rex team that is launching for asteroid Bennu in 2016 and coming back to Earth with samples in 2023. According to Elsila, that team is thinking both about how to reduce contamination, and how to understand what contamination might exist, to make sure they get the best science return possible from the samples.
"Contamination knowledge is particularly useful," she said. "OSIRIS-REx uses 'witness' materials that are exposed to the spacecraft environment and can record any potential contamination, so that future scientists can analyze both the witness material and the returned sample to understand what is truly asteroidal and what is the results of contamination. Future sample return missions can also benefit from this strategy."
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