The potential for metal contamination during Apollo lunar sample curation

James M. D. Day, Jennifer Maria‐Benavides, Francis M. McCubbin, Ryan A. Zeigler

Meteoritics & Planetary Science
First published: 26 March 2018


“Curation and preparation of samples for chemical analysis can occasionally lead to significant contamination. This issue is of concern in the study of lunar samples, especially those from the Apollo sample collection, where available masses are finite. Here we present compositional data for stainless steels that have commonly been used in the processing of Apollo lunar samples at NASA Johnson Space Center, including a chisel and a vessel typically used to transfer Apollo samples to principal investigators. The Type 304 stainless steels are Cr‐rich, with high concentrations of Mn (4000–18,000 μg g−1), Cu (1000–22,900 μg g−1), Mo (1030–1120 μg g−1), and W (72–193 μg g−1). They have elevated highly siderophile element (HSE) concentrations (up to 92 ng g−1 Os), 187Os/188Os ranging from 0.1310 to 0.1336, and negligible lithophile element abundances. We find that, while metal contamination is possible, significant (≫0.01% by mass) addition of stainless steel is required to strongly affect the composition of the HSE, W, Mo, Cr, or Cu for most Apollo lunar samples. Nonetheless, careful appraisal on a case‐by‐case basis should take place to ensure contamination introduced through sample processing during curation is at acceptably low levels. A survey of lunar mare basalts and crustal rocks indicates that metal contamination plays a negligible role in the compositional variability of the HSE and W compositions preserved in these samples. Further work to constrain contamination for other properties of Apollo samples is required (e.g., organics, microbes, water, noble gases, and magnetics), but the effect of metal contamination can be well‐constrained for the Apollo lunar collection. “