Apollo 11 astronauts used an aseptic sampler to avoid contaminating the rocks and dirt collected from the moon. The astronauts used an extension handle to hold a sterile plastic bag for the samples.
Nonetheless, all the samples astrobiologist Andrew Steele inspected had been contaminated with brush bristles, bits of plastic, nylon, and Teflon, and even biological material from the astronauts. The plastic bags themselves were a major source of contamination.
In total, Apollo astronauts collected 840 pounds of lunar material.
The moon samples are stored at the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in nitrogen-filled steel cabinets. Researchers must wear three layers of gloves to protect the samples. Inside the cabinets, sealed Teflon bags, plastic vials, and stainless steel or aluminum containers hold the samples.
In October 2000, FBI agents arrested a man in Arizona who claimed to be selling moon rocks over the Internet. Richard Keith Mountain pled guilty and was sentenced to 21 months in prison, three years’ probation, and 300 hours of community service.
In 2000, the House of Representatives approved a moon rock giveaway to 32 Apollo astronauts, including family members of the crew lost in Apollo 1. There was one condition: The rocks cannot be sold—they can only be handed down to family members.
Initially, the moon rocks were quarantined with about a dozen species of animals to make sure they did not harbor toxic or poisonous materials. Cockroaches were fed and inoculated with lunar rocks for up to 28 days, which did them no harm. Paramecia, planarians, shrimps, oysters, and houseflies also served as guinea pigs.