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NASA/Moon Samples

Charles’s work on the moon rock samples brought back by the NASA Apollo missions from 1969-1972 stemmed from the humblest of beginnings: his work with dirt.

In addition, his work on the NASA moon samples would lead him to found in ABC Labs in 1968, a company that today focuses on agricultural and pharmaceutical chemical analyses. The company grew to employ 300 people prior to its 2015 purchase by EAG Laboratories, a global scientific services company headquartered in San Diego.

Charles’s work on moon rocks started, in some ways in 1959, when William Albrecht, chairman of the University of Missouri’s Soils Department, asked him to come up with a reliable, precise test to find amino acids in soil. As he often did, Charles bluffed and told Albrecht he could do it with gas-liquid chromatography. The problem, as Charles related later, is that there wasn’t a method to use gas-liquid chromatography to find amino acids – yet.

But by the mid-1960s there was and it was the result of Charles’ and his team’s hard work.

In 1965, Charles had a peer-review article published entitled, “Quantitative Gas Chromatography of Amino Acids: Preparation of n-Butyl N-Trifluoroacetyl Esters.” This paper and subsequent publicity lead to Charles being among 29 scientists from a myriad of scientific disciplines tapped to analyze the moon rocks brought back from the July 20, 1969 moon landing, an event witnessed by more than 600 million people worldwide.

Charles’s work on the NASA samples would continue on throughout the Apollo moon landing missions, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 from 1969 to 1972. The methodologies and equipment he used would also help him go on to found ABC Laboratories, a company founded in 1968 which in 2015 employed more than 400 workers before its buy out from EAG Inc., of Sunnyvale, California.

The work on amino acids and chromatography would also lead him to his later search for cancer biomarkers. One of his colleagues said Charles’s publications continue to be cited in the area of epigenetics.



1. William McElroy - June 12, 2016

Dohrman Instruments built the Gas Chronograph used to sample the first Moon Rocks.. Bill McElroy was one of the two engineers that worked on the project.

diannaobrien - June 14, 2016

Thanks for the comment! May I assume that William McElroy is Bill McElroy? If not, do you know if Bill McElroy was on the team from MU with Charles W. Gehrke? Charles told me they used a Varian 2100 Chromatograph, which he later donated to the Smithsonian, so this is new information and I would love to know more! Thanks! Dianna O’Brien

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