The Fake Moon Landing Quarantine

We aren’t much into theories denying the moon landing around here, but [Dagomar Degroot], an associate professor at Georgetown University, asserts that the Apollo 11 quarantine efforts were bogus. Realistically, we think today that the chance of infection from the moon, of all places, is low. So claiming it was successful is like paying for a service that prevents elephants from falling through your chimney. Sure, it worked — there hasn’t been a single elephant!

According to [Degroot], the priority was to protect the astronauts and the mission, and most of the engineering money and effort went towards that risk reduction. The — admittedly low — danger of some alien plague wiping out life on Earth wasn’t given the same priority.

We honestly don’t find that very surprising. First, only on Star Trek and similar works of fiction is alien life so compatible with ours. We strongly suspect that alien life, when we find it, won’t really like the taste of us and vice versa. Besides that, even with what we have learned recently about the hardiness of life on Earth, the idea that life exists on the Moon seems pretty farfetched. We suspect people understood that in the 1960s, too, and simply went through the motions to quell fears from anxious bosses, politicos, and the general public.

It turns out if there is life on the Moon, we probably brought it there ourselves. If there are moon microbes, maybe that would solve our lunar power problems.

43 thoughts on “The Fake Moon Landing Quarantine

  1. There was some worry.

    Mike Collins said multiple times, it was a good thing to go to the moon and return, but it could have been the worst thing.

    Tongue in cheek mostly.

        1. Spock was a smart character.
          Mostly written by morons.
          On a network TV show produced by a moron.
          Who had to please even dumber people.
          Hence all the technobabble endings, court drama, westerns, space hippies…They just reused plots from ‘Lost in Space’. Later series just reused plots from the original.

          He would understand the difference and why it makes a difference.
          That said we could have used that as an argument to keep the astronauts in isolation forever. Space herpies could have a 53 year incubation period…

  2. Given the astronauts walked through open areas to the trailer, it was clear the quarantine was not real. Otherwise, there would have been a biohazard tunnel.
    And when I taught astronomy at a major online university, I would ask what it would mean if alien life could eat us. (Yes, I know, they want To Serve Man). No one could answer. One answer would be panspermia – life formed in one place and spread. Another would be what seems to be supported by evidence, that the building blocks of life as we know it (Jim) are so easily produced that life on other planets would use the same building blocks and therefore be similar.

        1. Admittedly, but from what I do understand, the “same” chemical whether it’s in a left or right handed form can have entirely different functions. A famous example is thalidome: one mirror image works as medicine, the other causes birth defects.

          1. Another example: Penicillamine, ” The (S)-enantiomer, the eutomer, is antiarthritic while the distomer (R)-penicillamine is extremely toxic.”

            So if you think about all the bits of DNA and the proteins it encodes, all life on earth is right handed as far as I understood. If you tried to eat another organism that had left handed DNA, much of its proteins and chemicals would probably be deadly to us.

  3. I heard an Apollo historian comment on this. He said the scientific consensus was the situation was negligible risk, and the quarantine was used mostly for the astronauts to wind down from the mission.

    1. A quick glance of the article reads that they still spent $100 million on the topic, which in those days was worth a whole lot. It seems to have been a great excuse to siphon off some money from the already expensive program.

      1. In one of the bazillion documentary interviews of Apollo astronauts one of them, I don’t recall which one, pointed out the many ways that the quarantine was a joke with all kinds of biohazard escape points. So, the astronauts were well aware that it was mainly just a show for the public so the US and world media wouldn’t go nuts about civilization destroying microbes from the moon.

        1. Oddly enough, a few days ago I spontaneously read the first few chapters of Buzz Aldrin’s book documenting his life shortly after the Apollo 11 mission ended.

          Although NASA went to the trouble of immediately housing the astronauts in a trailer, and hauling, flying, and shipping it from the Hornet to Houston, he recalls seeing ants in the trailer shortly after.

          Fun fact: the first thing he said to his wife when he got back was to ask for a pair of jockey shorts.

    2. It’s probably more like those research institutes that keep bombarding the scientific community with “Do cellphones cause cancer? We think so, we can’t produce any conclusive evidence, more research needed!” papers every other year.

      It’s something for their researchers to do and papers to release, to attract funding.

        1. Nah, we already know it was part of the vaccination campaign to upgrade the tracking devices in your cells from 3G to 5G in order to be compatible with the new transmitters.

    3. Letting them wind down makes sense, because you know the media would have been all over them the second they got back but if they’re in “quarantine” they can’t be interviewed.

    1. You’re not mistaken. Basically anything that was considered waste for the return trip (excrement, urine, camera, empty containers, tools, etc) was left behind in favour of being able to bring more moon rocks

  4. In the last few weeks, I read 3 Astronaut Books and it was great reminiscing! I watched the first Moon landing on our Motorola TV. The first Book was written by Gene Cernan, the second by Gordon Cooper and the third by Edgar Mitchell. They all commented on the quarantine even though Gordon did not make it to the Moon

    1. I followed Apollo avidly, and I was 12 years old at the time. But even I could see how silly it was to worry about biological back-contamination from the moon. It was exposed to hard vacuum, and most importantly to continuous UV solar radiation and intermittent bursts of extremely energetic solar particles. I remember reading at the time that it was hard to think of a better place to sterilize something, and I agreed. Consider it in the same vein as modern “security theater” on airplanes.

      1. On the flip side you have bacteria that live at the mouth of thermal vents in the deep ocean and bacteria that thrives in reactor cooling water… not to mention even relatively complex life like tardigrades that have demonstrated the ability to tolerate extreme cold, vacuum, and cosmic radiation in space and survive. So exercising even token consideration of this threat potential was not “silly”.

        As to the theoretical effectiveness of such efforts, why would post-flight physical separation of the astronauts from the general population be considered silly now when the same reasoning formed the backbone of the USA’s COVID response just a few years ago?

        1. While I know a few things can begin to grow again after being exposed to space, it’s hard for me to imagine they would grow and thrive when their environment alternates between incredibly high and low temperatures in a vacuum while on a dry dusty rock. The things we’ve seen survive when you test them against such things didn’t have to evolve in such conditions and are mainly interesting because they don’t all die and not because they can find a niche there.

          Also, there might have been more protection of the astronauts from catching a cold while their bodies recovered from a stressful trip than there was protection of everyone else from them – any microbes hardy enough to survive all that and then infect humans would potentially not even fall afoul of the normal immune responses that keep small doses of most things from actually progressing to an infection. (By blocking almost all of a normal virus, the little bits that get thru typically don’t infect someone.)

          1. On the other hand, if we replace safety with a different scenario, the precautionary principle says something similar to the idea you should give me whatever I ask for if I claim to be a god who will punish you forever if you don’t. Game theory and other logic says you probably shouldn’t assign infinite weight to even quite horrible imagined consequences without giving the alternatives equal consideration. E.G. maybe the aggregate effect of always giving in without investigating is bad enough to be worth a small risk of a very bad outcome.

            That being said I mainly was saying that their procedures only protect against certain things; failures like the article claims would imply that anything sufficiently beyond our understanding may have slipped right through, and the procedures mostly protected against things we understood well enough that at least in retrospect it seems odd to expect to be able to make the jump if they had been around.

        2. Yeah. It seems silly now that we know most places in space are utterly sterile, but that wasn’t a sound assumption before we started exploring. We come from a place where there is literally nothing without some kind of tiny life on it, not one inch of Earth no matter how inhospitable, poisoned, irradiated, cold, hot, acidic, whatever. It was perfectly rational to consider that perhaps space was the same, until we found out it wasn’t.

  5. I too believe there’s life out there in the universe, but your comment “alien life, when we find it” is the same as your elephant analogy. “Sure there’s life out there, we just haven’t found it yet”.

    1. There’s life out there, but we can’t get to it and it can’t get to us. And if it can get to us, we should hope it never does, because something that climbs that far out of its habitat and keeps going is from a scary place and must be extremely vicious and smart. Read Blindsight by Peter Watts

  6. It seems the efforts could have helped against many common types of bacteria.

    But there was (and to some extent still is) so much unknown that it is easy to imagine threats: what if Moon and Mars are without life exactly because a super bacteria has developed and destroyed everything?

  7. We don´t take precautions, against anything, because we know what will happen. We take those precautions because of what we are not sure if will happen or not.

    And 50 years later, we know a lot more about avoiding contamination and diseases, so that pandemies are things of the distant middle ages, yes ?

  8. Consider all the sci-fi influences on the public. All those great B movies of the 50’s and 60’s.

    The first moon walk was July 1969. The Andromeda Strain was published in May 1969. It was a great book, very realistic. Though I don’t know how many read it before the landing. It set a nice stage for infectious bacteria from space.

    The 1971 movie was also excellent. Lots of tension, and very scary as a kid.

  9. The Apollo quarantine was very real and extensive. It was just for the rocks rather than the Astronauts.

    The isolation chain needed to stretch from surface sample collection through transport and to storage on Earth without contaminating those samples. The ALSRCs were some beautifully machines containers that were sterilised on Earth, vacuum sealed, then opened on the Lunar surface to fill with samples, closed (again in a vacuum) on the surface, and only opened again under vacuum in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory to remove the samples for permanent storage (again under vacuum seal, some still sealed today).

  10. You forgot that the Bereseet Lander (Israel) had Tardigrades onboard. Those buggers are very hardy so there is possibly life on the moon and we are responsible for the panspermia.

    “There’s life on Neptune?
    – Well, not after dark.

    Well, except for one little
    rib place in the inner city.” – Mork and Mindy

  11. Looks like we have some arm-chair quarterbacks here :) …. We didn’t walk in there shoes for the time period, so why do we start second guessing what the thoughts, or methods used at that time? It is like some are trying to ‘rewrite’ history to conform to their current perspective.

    1. Historian’s fallacy works both ways. You can misunderstand history by applying modern standards, or by assuming the people couldn’t possibly have known what we know today – i.e. “previous generations were all idiots”.

  12. So, they are Landed …. the where delivered by to for hours to the Bogus camera … Just try to Visualize all this process … sound … suspicious? …. and for the next 50 years … no one can reproduce. (((Science …. Reproducibility))) … ring the bell ? No… well, (maybe) U have some invisible (Magical) bell perhaps.

  13. Auto Text correction can be a very big problem, so, I have to re-Post :: So, they are Landed, Next: they were delivered by (? people) to (? place) for (? many) hours to the Bogus camera … Just try to Visualize all this process … sound … suspicious? …. and for the next 50 years … no one can reproduce. (((Science …. Reproducibility))) … ring the bell ? No… well, (maybe) U have some invisible (Magical) bell perhaps.

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