Between 1976 and 2012, NSF sponsored field expeditions in Antarctica to collect meteorites; since 2013, NASA and NSF have jointly sponsored these expeditions. The success of these searches can be gauged by the fact that over 20,000 meteorites have been added to the world's inventory. Among these specimens have been many rare and even previously unknown types that have caused researchers to rethink ideas about the origin and evolution of the Solar System.
The meteorites have been collected with care and are curated and distributed from special facilities at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas and the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian), Washington, D.C. The curatorial system for meteorites at both locations has been patterned after lunar sample curation to ensure that the specimens remain in a relatively pristine state. The program of sample distribution has functioned since 1978 and as of the Fall of 2014 has distributed more than 17,700 samples to 568 investigators in 29 countries.
NSF, NASA, and the Smithsonian have mutually agreed to cooperate in this endeavor: between 1980 and 2013, this cooperation was guided by a Three-Agency Agreement signed Feb 9, 1980; in 2015, this will be replaced by a trilateral Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). Under the current agreement, the NSF, through its Division of Polar Programs, supports the logistics of the field recovery team; NASA, supports the costs of assembling the field team and, through its Johnson Space Center (JSC), supplies special collecting materials, field collecting expertise, furnishes storage, curatorial and distribution facilities, provides thin sections, maintains a thin section library and periodically produces, edits and publishes the Antarctic Meteorite Newsletter; and the Smithsonian Institution, Division of Mineral Sciences, National Museum of Natural History, curates and distributes the iron meteorites, produces thin sections, maintains a thin section library, characterizes the meteorites for the newsletter, and provides long term curation facilities for the collection.
The 2015 MOA will continue and maintain two groups, which were originally created by 1980 three-agency agreement:
- A Meteorite Steering Group (MSG), composed of a Washington, D.C. representative from each agency. The function of the MSG is to provide the management oversight for the entire Antarctic Meteorite Program.
- A standing review panel, traditionally known as the Meteorite Working Group (MWG), to be organized by NASA as a scientific analysis group and to review the merit of requests to use Antarctic meteorites for research and education. Under this Charter, MWG is established as a subcommittee of the Curation and Planning Team for Extraterrestrial Materials (CAPTEM). Since the establishment of the MWG, procedures for the timely handling and review of sample requests have been instituted and are reported to the MSG.
II. REQUIREMENT FOR THE METEORITE WORKING GROUP
There is a large and growing number of Antarctic meteorites, an active and highly interested scientific community, and international participation in collection and analysis, leading to a complex situation with regard to collecting, preserving and distributing specimens. The MWG provides a mechanism for the MSG and the agencies that they represent to obtain detailed findings from a diverse group of scientists and curatorial experts, allowing for informed curatorial decisions that are consistent with the best current understanding of the usefulness and importance of the meteorites.
The MWG will also provide findings on collection and documentation procedures, curation procedures, allocation of samples in response to requests, and on other related matters on request from NASA and the MSG. The committee will also monitor and maintain liaison with other Antarctic collection efforts as they develop.
III. ORGANIZATION AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE MWG
A. Membership and MWG Organization
The MWG consists of no fewer than six regular members who have been chosen for their scientific or technical experience with meteorites or related materials, one of whom shall be Chair. Nominations for new regular members shall be made as specified in the CAPTEM charter. JSC and the SI each shall appoint an additional member to MWG, with the JSC member serving as MWG secretary and liaison with the JSC curation office. The JSC and SI members may participate fully in discussions and voting, except they shall not vote on matters related to allocation of specimens from their respective institutional collections. Members (excluding the JSC and SI representatives) may serve no more than two consecutive three-year terms, rotating to allow broad participation of the scientific community.
- The Chair of MWG is nominated by the members of the MWG from among current and previous members. Nominations shall be reported to the CAPTEM Chair and the NASA Discipline Scientist at least 4 months before the end of the current MWG Chair's term.
- A vice-Chair of MWG will be appointed by the Chair from among the regular members.
- The MWG secretary is responsible for preparing and distributing the meeting agenda, background information, meeting minutes, and recording and distributing all MWG findings on allocations and other matters. The secretary also is responsible for receiving requests, acknowledging outside correspondence, and other matters relating to the operations of the MWG.
B. Specific Responsibilities
The MWG will:
- Monitor, evaluate, and make findings when necessary on: the conditions of initial processing of each sample at JSC and SI; the initial division of each meteorite as to the size and storage conditions of the portions to be set aside for archival storage, sent to the SI, and retained at JSC for distribution.
- Provide appropriate scientific review of sample requests from investigators and communicate these findings to the Curators. It will likewise make findings on the disposition of samples following their initial scientific study and suggest alternate samples when appropriate. All review activities will be follow the NASA/Science Mission Directorate's policy on Conflict of Interest (SPD-01A).
- Evaluate the available curatorial facilities at JSC, with respect to the preservation and distribution of Antarctic meteorites; particularly, the adequacy of facilities and procedures and the timeliness of sample distribution. The MWG will also make findings on the most efficient utilization of resources at JSC.
- Evaluate the available curatorial facilities at the SI, with respect to the preservation and distribution of Antarctic meteorites; particularly the adequacy of facilities and procedures and the timeliness of sample distribution. The MWG will also make findings on the most efficient utilization of resources at the Smithsonian.
- On request from the MSG or CAPTEM, provide findings on policy or other matters related to the field collection, preservation and distribution of Antarctic Meteorite Specimens, and other matters as deemed appropriate.
C. Reporting to Meteorite Steering Group (MSG)
All findings made by MWG on the merits of sample requests will be transmitted by the Secretary to the Curators, who will be responsible for obtaining any necessary concurrence from MSG. Copies of the findings and meeting minutes will also be distributed to members of the MWG, MSG and other persons as designated by the MSG. An active file of activities, reports, minutes and correspondence will be maintained by the JSC Curatorial office.
D. Interfaces to Other Organizations
The MWG will request participation from JSC and SI curatorial staff, members of the field teams, individual scientists, and others as necessary to carry out its review and analysis functions. All announcements of meetings of the MWG shall be copied to the Chair and Secretary of CAPTEM, the JSC and SI Curators, members of MSG, and the ANSMET Principal Investigator. MWG meetings shall be open to all concerned parties except during the evaluation of proposals for specimen allocations.