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Lunar quarantine

When the Apollo 11 astronauts arrived back on Earth, no-one knew whether they were contaminated with secret space viruses or not – so the astronauts stayed in an Airstream trailer under quarantine for three weeks.

Space quarantine

NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

1969, the same year that humans went to the moon and back, Michael Crichton released his breakout novel The Andromeda Strain, about an extraterrestrial microbe that wreaks havoc after arriving on Earth on the outside of a downed satellite. So you could say that the possibility of extraterrestrial contamination was on people’s minds. No-one knew if the moon was dangerous in this way because no-one had ever been to the moon before. NASA, being NASA, had a plan.

When the three Apollo 11 astronauts splashed down (upside down, by the way), they had to put on Hazmat-like suits before they got into the waiting life raft. As soon as possible, and still wearing the suits, they moved into a quarantine trailer kept on board the recovery ship.

When I say a trailer, by the way, I mean an actual trailer: the Mobile Quarantine Facility was an Airstream trailer retrofitted by NASA to act as a containment unit. It had a little curtain in front of the window, and when President Nixon (the granny-hater) turned up to congratulate them he did so by peeking through that little window. You can see the picture above, and some video below. He keeps his distance pretty well, possibly because of theoretical space bugs.

For the next three weeks, if they wanted the astronauts to move around then they just lifted the trailer and put it someplace else. It went from the recovery vessel (the USS Hornet) to Pearl Harbor to Houston with the five occupants still inside.

Five? Well, once the three astronauts were in the unit they were joined by a flight surgeon, William Carpentier, and an engineer, John Hirasaki. Hirasaki had actually just read The Andromeda Strain, but apparently he didn’t take it too seriously.

Categories: Earth & sky Health & medicine History Modern history Sciences

The Generalist

I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and am curious about most things.

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