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Why NASA quarantined the Apollo 11 astronauts

NASA wanted to stop a potential lunar plague. This is how it worked.

They had a reason.

On July 21, 1969, the Apollo 11 quarantine began.

As shown in the video above, it was an unusual process for an unprecedented task: keeping potential moon germs from entering the Earth’s atmosphere (and affecting its population).

To isolate the Apollo astronauts from Earth, NASA went to extraordinary lengths, clothing them in “biological isolation garments,” transporting them on a converted Airstream trailer, and quarantining them for weeks in a Lunar Receiving Lab built specially for analyzing moon samples — and, of course, for holding the men who went there.

The quarantine was a strange capstone to the journey to the moon — but a necessary one that’s surprisingly resonant today.

Watch the conversation above to learn more.

You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube.

Further reading:

  • NASA has an excellent flight journal chronicling the quarantine.
  • The National Archives maintains a treasure trove of Apollo 11 footage. Searching the catalog can be a bit clunky, but the results are astonishing (and helped make this video). You can see search results for the Mobile Quarantine Facility (abbreviated as MQF) here.
  • NASA also has multiple oral histories that relate to the quarantine. This one with John Hirasaki is a good place to start.
  • We were joined in this conversation by Amy Shira Teitel, whose YouTube channel The Vintage Space chronicles a range of topics related to space and the middle of the 20th century.