August 13 – Home sweet home

Today’s factismal: After three weeks of quarantine, the Apollo 11 astronauts were released and treated to a ticker tape parade.

If you grew up in the 1960s or have watched videos of the Moon missions, then odds are that you’ve seen something very odd: before the missions the astronauts were kept in isolation in order to ensure that they wouldn’t get sick and after the missions they were kept in quarantine in order to make sure that everyone else didn’t get sick. The reason for the first is pretty obvious once you think about it; it wouldn’t do to have an astronaut come down with a cold during a mission. But why the second?

The Apollo 11 astronauts in quarantine (Image courtesy NASA)

The Apollo 11 astronauts in quarantine
(Image courtesy NASA)

It turns out that the reason for the quarantine after the mission is pretty obvious too: we simply didn’t know if there might be anything living on the Moon. Though we were pretty sure that the Moon would be sterile, given that it is airless and subjected to temperatures ranging from -250°F at night to +250°F during the day. But we also knew that there are Earth animals that can survive conditions almost as extreme. So, in order to make sure that the astronauts didn’t accidentally pick up a cold on the Moon and spread it here on Earth, they were kept in quarantine for 21 days.

Home sweet home for the Apollo 11 astronauts (it was actually bigger than their capsule) (Image courtesy NASA)

Home sweet home for the Apollo 11 astronauts (it was actually bigger than their capsule)
(Image courtesy NASA)

Interestingly, we are still learning about how space and space travel can change animals, ranging from the human to the microbe. If you’d like to take part in the science, then why not join Project MERCCURI? They are looking for terrestrial volunteers to collect swabs of microbes at sporting events and other places on Earth; these samples will be compared to those taken from the International Space Station. There will even be a “grow off” between the best microbes from each environment. So, if you’re interested, start your swabbing at:
http://www.microbe.net/project-iss-microbiome-collaboration-with-science-cheerleaders/

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