Moon landing astronauts reveal they possibly infected Earth with space germs

Two Apollo 11 astronauts question NASA's planetary safety procedures.

Moon landing astronauts reveal they possibly infected Earth with space germs

President Richard M. Nixon laughs with Apollo 11 astronauts by the Mobile Quarantine Facility. July 24th, 1969.

Credit: Bettmann, Getty Images.
  • Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins revealed that there were deficiencies in NASA's safety procedures following the Apollo 11 mission.
  • Moon landing astronauts were quarantined for 21 days.
  • Earth could be contaminated with lunar bacteria.


The moon landing was definitely one of humanity's most amazing achievements. It could have also been one of its most dangerous moments. Apollo 11 astronauts who took part in the landing revealed that there's a chance Earth could have been contaminated with lunar germs as a result of their mission.

NASA actually had procedures in place to address any possible spread of bacteria from space to our home planet but the measures had key deficiencies, asserted astronaut Michael Collins in the new PBS documentary "Chasing the Moon". He wasn't actually one of the people who walked on the moon. But he was in the command module when his crewmates came back from the lunar vehicle. At that moment, he would have been "exposed," as he admitted, to the lunar germs, if there were any.

"Look at it this way," he said, as reported by Space.com. "Suppose there were germs on the moon. There are germs on the moon, we come back, the command module is full of lunar germs. The command module lands in the Pacific Ocean, and what do they do? Open the hatch. You got to open the hatch! All the damn germs come out!"


His point about what happened once the command module splashed down in the Pacific were re-enforced by Buzz Aldrin, who did get to walk on the moon and could have been the one carrying the potential germs. He especially remembered the discarded rags that were used to disinfect him once he was pulled out of the module.

"You have to laugh a little bit," Aldrin mused. "It takes all those germs to the bottom of the ocean. I wonder if they'd survive down there?"

7/24/1969. Pararescueman Lieutenant Clancey Hatleberg closes the Apollo 11 spacecraft hatch as astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, await helicopter pickup from their life raft. They are wearing biological isolation garments for their 21-day, quaratine period.

Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images

Apollo 11 astronauts actually spent 21 days in quarantine, released without any noticeable issues. Future missions Apollo 15 through 17 of 1971-1972 also had men walking on the moon but did not employ any quarantine measures, according to Scientific American. This lack of precaution was precipitated by the analysis of lunar samples from previous missions, which showed no life forms.

Apollo 11 40th Anniversary - Water Recovery System

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Study helps explain why motivation to learn declines with age

Research suggests that aging affects a brain circuit critical for learning and decision-making.

Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

As people age, they often lose their motivation to learn new things or engage in everyday activities. In a study of mice, MIT neuroscientists have now identified a brain circuit that is critical for maintaining this kind of motivation.

Keep reading Show less

Scientists discover why fish evolved limbs and left water

Researchers find a key clue to the evolution of bony fish and tetrapods.

Surprising Science
  • A new study says solar and lunar tide impacts led to the evolution of bony fish and tetrapods.
  • The scientists show that tides created tidal pools, stranding fish and forcing them to get out of the water.
  • The researchers ran computer simulations to get their results.
Keep reading Show less
Coronavirus

Optimism may be dangerous in a pandemic, say behavioral psychologists

Most people believe themselves to be less at risk from COVID-19 than others similar to them, according to a recent UCL survey conducted in the U.S.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast