When planning the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, NASA had thought about every possible detail including a gloomy scenario: What if the astronaut returning home unleashed upon Earth something dangerous and foreign to science — moon germs?
Before Apollo 11 set out, NASA couldn’t be positive that, if bits of dust or potential microorganisms got loose back home, life on Earth would be safe. Needless to say, accidentally setting a lunar plague loose on the inhabitants of Earth would have erased all the good publicity garnered by accomplishing the moon landing in the first place.
Just in case, in addition to the protections they were establishing to make sure the moon rocks remained free of terrestrial contamination, NASA decided to establish a three-week quarantine for the crew of Apollo 11.
Following their arrival in Houston on July 27, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins were restricted to the Mobile Quarantine Facility.
Their spacecraft, the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia as well as the 49 pounds of lunar samples they brought back were likewise kept in quarantine, which was to last 21 days from the time they were first exposed to lunar material.
During their time in the LRL, they conducted numerous debriefs from a glass-enclosed conference room, wrote their pilot reports, and celebrated Armstrong’s 39th birthday with a surprise party.
The Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) was basically a massive Airstream-esque trailer on an aircraft carrier. It was so big, it had its own lounge and library, and could accommodate up to 100 people. In comparison to the landing module, the MQF was a palace.
Supported by a team of 20, the astronauts were visited by none other than President Nixon. Finally, having served three weeks in isolation, when no moon disease appeared, Collins, Aldrin and Armstrong were released onto Terra Firma.
(Photo credit: Time Life Pictures / NASA / The LIFE Picture Collection).