David E.

Steitz Headquarters, Washington (Phone: 202/358-1730)

July 1, 2002

Chris Rink Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va. (Phone: 757/864-6786) Susan Cooper National Archives and Records Administration, Suitland, Md. (Phone: 301/837-1700) RELEASE: 02-119 NASA HELPS PRESERVE OUR NATION'S HISTORY The United States' most important historical documents may be spared from irreparable deterioration thanks to the work of a team of NASA scientists working at the request of the National Archives and Records Administration. Scientists from NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., have confirmed the atmosphere enclosing the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights is too moist. In a report submitted to the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md. -- the organization contracted to provide encasements to the National Archives -the team found there is nearly twice as much water vapor in the atmosphere surrounding the documents as there should be. As a result of the research, the National Archives will replace the containers preserving the Charters of Freedom over the next few months. "The amount of water vapor or humidity in the encasements is critical to their long-term preservation," said Dr. Joel Levine, the NASA scientist who managed the project and gave the presentation. "Too much water vapor in a closed system like these encasements has caused their glass to chemically decompose, which could lead to eventual deterioration of the documents." "These documents form the basis of U.S. democracy, and it is important to preserve them," said Levine. "We're happy we

were able to apply technology, originally developed by NASA for atmospheric science, remote sensing, laser spectroscopy and wind tunnel measurements, to ensure the future stability of the Charters of Freedom." In the original encasements, deterioration of the glass appeared as small surface cracks, crystals and droplets. This deterioration would eventually cause the glass to become opaque. Some humidity is necessary to keep the sheepskin documents from becoming brittle: the preferred relative humidity is less than 40 percent. In the early 1950s, the documents, collectively known as the Charters of Freedom, were sealed in specially prepared containers. The cases were filled with humidified helium to protect the documents. Many document-preservation experts suspected the helium had leaked and allowed air to enter the encasements, but the NASA team proved the cases remained sealed in the original atmosphere. "We were also surprised to discover the amount of carbon dioxide in the encasements was nearly ten times higher than levels found in Earth's atmosphere," said Levine. NASA's research group consisted of three independent teams: two teams used non-invasive measurement techniques to study the atmosphere through the glass encasement. The third team used NASA instruments to determine the chemical composition of extracted samples from each case. The teams, unaware of the others' findings and applying different methods, produced very consistent results. NASA examines different aspects of atmosphere as part of the study of Earth System Science, an examination of the Earth in an effort to better understand and protect it, while bettering life on the planet. More information about NASA's Earth Science Enterprise is available at: http://www.earth.nasa.gov - end -