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Since May 1981, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has used aircraft to collect cosmic dust (CD) particles from Earth's stratosphere. Specially designed dust collectors are prepared for flight and processed after flight in an ultraclean (Class-100) laboratory constructed for this purpose at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. Particles are individually retrieved from the collectors, examined and cataloged, and then made available to the scientific community for research. Cosmic dust thereby joins lunar samples and meteorites as an additional source of extraterrestrial materials for scientific study.
This catalog summarizes preliminary observations on 467 particles retrieved from collection surfaces L2021 and L2036. These surfaces were flat plate Large Area Collectors (with a 300 cm2 surface area each) which was coated with silicone oil (dimethyl siloxane) and then flown aboard a NASA ER-2 aircraft during a series of flights that were made during January and February of 1994 (L2021) and June 7 through July 5 of 1994 (L2036). Collector L2021 was flown across the entire southern margin of the US (California to Florida), and collector L2036 was flown from California to Wallops Island, VA and on to New England. These collectors were installed in a specially constructed wing pylon which ensured that the necessary level of cleanliness was maintained between periods of active sampling. During successive periods of high altitude (20 km) cruise, the collectors were exposed in the stratosphere by barometric controls and then retracted into sealed storage containers prior to descent. In this manner, a total of 35.8 hours of stratospheric exposure was accumulated for collector L2021, and 26 hours for collector L2036.