REWIND: Apollo 11 Airstream Quarantine

Remembering Mike Collins (31 October 1930 – 28 April 2021) who will be best remembered as serving as the Command Module Pilot on Apollo 11, who journeyed with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the the first Apollo mission to actually land on the Moon. As the Command Module Pilot, Collins stayed behind alone in the Command Module while Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon.

Collins was a member of the third group of NASA astronauts, selected in October 1963. His first flight was as pilot of Gemini 10, a three-day mission launched 18 July 1966. The flight, commanded by John Young, set an altitude record. The rocket of an Agena target-docking vehicle with which they had docked boosted them into an altitude of 476 miles. Later they rendezvoused with a second Agena. Collins became the third U.S. spacewalker when he retrieved a micrometeorite detection device from that Agena.

Including the Apollo 11 mission, Collins logged 266 hours in space. He also served as CAPCOM (capsule communicator) for Apollo 8, relaying information between mission control and the crew.

This post from July 2019 recounts a less glamorous part of the Apollo 11 mission.

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! From left to right: Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.

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