Scientists and architects from Austrian institutions plan a dedicated facility for extraterrestrial rocks

20. December 2016
In the frame of the H2020 project EURO-CARES, a team of researchers of the Natural History Museum Vienna (NHMV) and architects and students of the Department of Building Construction and Design HB2 (Institute of Architecture and Design of the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien)) are collaborating on a facility to host extraterrestrial samples in Europe.
EURO-CARES [European Curation of Astromaterials Returned from Exploration of Space] is a project ( coordinated by the NHM London and part of the Horizon 2020 European Commission Research and Innovation programme. Two Austrian scientists are involved. Dr. Ludovic Ferriere (Curator of the Rock Collection and co-Curator of the Meteorite Collection) and Dr. Aurore Hutzler (Post-Doctoral Researcher), together with other European colleagues, are in charge to define the state of the art facilities required to receive, contain and curate extraterrestrial samples, and guarantee terrestrial planetary protection, with a special focus on the building design, the storage of the samples, and their curation.

About HB2
The Department Hochbau 2, Institute for Architecture and Design has long experience in researching and planning facilities in extreme environments. Dr. Sandra Häuplik-Meusburger is an internationally active expert on the topic of space and habitability and has – amongst other research projects – been collaborating with Dr. San-Hwan Lu on a number of related research and teaching projects at the TU Wien. These projects – including design studios and built prototypes for lunar settlements and Mars shelters – have been conducted in association with experts from NASA and ESA and explore the intersection between science, engineering and human necessities, which are of special importance in extreme environments.

Extraterrestrial rocks have been of special interest here in Austria already since the year 1778, date at which the first two meteorites entered the Vienna collection, namely the Hraschina and Tabor meteorites. A large number of meteorites aficionados are aware that the NHMV houses the world oldest meteorite collection and has also the world largest display of these extraterrestrial rocks, but how many know that scientists from the NHMV are looking forward for samples returned from exploration missions to the Moon, asteroids, and Mars and planning a dedicated and unique facility for these "space refugees"?

For the design aspect of the facility, a collaboration with Sandra Häuplik-Meusburger and San-Hwan Lu from the Department Hochbau 2 of the TU Wien was initiated earlier this year. A Design Studio took place in the first semester of 2016 with the participation of 18 students from the Master of Architecture program of the TU Wien.
This collaboration has resulted in the compilation of a highly praised booklet in which different concepts of designs of facilities are presented. The booklet is available online ( or can be directly purchased at the TU Wien (

As of 2016 there is no European facility able to comprehensively take care of samples brought back from the Moon, asteroids, and Mars. If Europe wants to be fully engaged in programs with sample return to Earth, we need to develop infrastructures equivalent to what is currently available at NASA in the USA (Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas) and at JAXA in Japan (Planetary Material Sample Curation Facility, Sagamihara, Kanagawa). These are the only two places on Earth that currently have suitable infrastructures and facilities for pristine samples from the Moon and asteroids. For samples from Mars, which might contain traces of life, there is at the moment no facility on Earth that is able to receive and curate them.
[This may seem strange for some knowing that meteorites from Mars are on display at the NHMV and also in other collections worldwide, but the point is that in case of sample return missions to Mars, the collected samples will be considered as potentially biohazardous and thus, very specific measures need to be taken to prevent any contamination from the Earth.]
The collaboration of scientists (expert on the samples) and architects have resulted in very interesting facility designs, some looking like "UFO spaceships" and others being more traditional-looking, but all able to safely receive and curate "alien rocks".

The next step is to prepare a more advanced design, which will be presented during a workshop to take place in Italy in July 2017. Hopefully one day, we might see such a facility constructed in Europe, and why not in Austria?

Statements by Ludovic Ferriere:
“Such a facility is necessary to continue our space exploration and required in case we want to bring back some extraterrestrial samples on Earth, especially if from Mars.”

“It is interesting to see the surprise of some visitors when I tell them about the research activities we have at the NHMV and especially in this case when I discuss of ultra modern facilities in which we would receive and curate extraterrestrial samples.”

“We have centuries of expertise in curation at the NHMV, one of the reason we are part of this European project.”

“In case somebody would offer me extraterrestrial rocks as Christmas present, I would also need such an ultra modern facility to properly host them, just a few hundreds of millions at the end...”

Statements by Aurore Hutzler:
“The facility will not be opened if the risk of releasing an unknown biological agent is too high. Based on some BSL-4 success stories, we are recommending to keep an open and honest communication with the various stakeholders, regarding curation and science in the facility. It is especially crucial to reassure local populations, that if the facility is build and opened, it will be completely safe.”

“Working with the students of the Vienna University of Technology was delightful. A lot of energy, fresh eyes, and fresh ideas.”

“International experts, such as renowned Canadian architects, or curators at NASA were deeply impressed by the quality of the work of the students. Some collaborations might happen in the future, which shows how important it is to promote young generations in such long-term projects.”

Statements by Sandra Häuplik-Meusburger:
“As a discipline, architecture aims at creating an optimized design that is compatible with technological, scientific, design, and human factors requirements. The design process is usually multidisciplinary and interrelates with involvement of different disciplines. This is not always an easy process and needs a lot of engagement of the involved persons.”

“It has been a great experience for us as tutors and for the students to work in an interdisciplinary studio and to develop architectural visions for a new building type.”

Booklet quotations:
“Weekly meetings with the whole group and individual table critics assisted the design

“An intensive workshop was held in the second week of the design studio. The goal for this one-week working session was to derive a preliminary functional design and architectural concept of the facility. Lectures by Aurore Hutzler, Ludovic Ferriere, and Allan Bennett on the programmatic aspects on laboratories and scientific work processes were scheduled in the mornings. The afternoons were used for individual and group working activities as well as table critics. Special care was given to the spatial programming combining the laboratory design with the work and public facilities.”

Links and contacts: and Facebook/Twitter

Ludovic Ferriere:
Aurore Hutzler:


Sandra Häuplik-Meusburger:
San-Hwan Lu:

 © NHM Wien
© HB2, TU Wien
© HB2, TU Wien]
© NHM Wien, Kurt Kracher

© Ferrière, NHM Wien