NASA decided to quarantine the Apollo 11 astronauts and their lunar samples immediately upon opening the spacecraft hatch after splashdown on 24 July 1969 to guard against the remote possibility of the Apollo astronauts returning from the Moon infected with extraterrestrial diseases. The reverse was also true. Scientists wanted the lunar samples quarantined against any chance of contamination by terrestrial organisms to keep the lunar samples as pure as possible for study.
According to NASA, “The MQF [Mobile Quarantine Facility] was essentially a highly-modified 35-foot Airstream trailer designed for its quarantine purposes by providing self-contained accommodations and biological isolation for six people for up to 10 days. The sealed aluminum body shell made it airtight and the ventilation system provided negative pressure for biological isolation. A decontamination airlock allowed for the transfer of samples and film to the outside for rapid return to Houston ahead of the MQF and crew. Containing a lounge, galley, sleeping quarters and bathroom, the facility was powered internally by a diesel generator and batteries and could interface with ship and aircraft power systems. A then-novel appliance for meal preparation was a microwave oven.”
NASA images show the Apollo 11 astronauts entering the MQF while in their Biological Isolation Garments. The two images at right show the astronauts talking with President Richard Nixon and then the MQF being offloaded from the aircraft carrier Hornet in preparation for being flown back to Houston.
The Apollo 11 astronauts relax inside the MQF. After Apollo 14, NASA decided that quarantine of astronauts was no longer necessary as there was no evidence of any lunar micro-organisms. The astronauts are, from left to right, Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong.
The image above and following are images of the MQF as it looks today on display at the National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center.
Hard to believe the Apollo 11 mission was carried out 50 years ago!