Fifty years ago, Apollo 11 astronauts returned from their trip to the moon, but NASA had to be sure they weren’t contaminated.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the two astronauts who stepped onto the lunar surface, were quarantined for several weeks while the samples they brought back to Earth were tested for safety.
While they were holed up, Armstrong and Aldrin were joined by several mice who were injected with some of the lunar material.
“They always wanted to know how the rodents were doing,” Judith Hayes, chief of NASA’s Biomedical Research and Environmental Sciences division, told Space.com. “If the rodents did well, then they would likely be released on time, if the rodents weren’t well, they would likely be examined much more carefully and longer.”
Tests also included injecting Japanese quail, putting moon dust into water tanks containing shrimp, minnows, guppies and oysters, and feeding it to insects like houseflies, moths, and the resilient cockroach.
NASA’s goal: ensuring that the Earth’s entire biosphere would not be affected by the samples the astronauts returned.
In the end, all the rodents (and astronauts) came out of the examination period alive and only the oysters were affected, but scientists chalked that up to the testing occurring during the bivalves’ mating season.
By the time of Apollo 14, NASA had collected enough data that it ended its quarantine and testing program all together for future moon missions after concluding there was no contamination risk.
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