Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of Apollo Lunar Exploration Missions


Astronauts Given Clean Bill of Health

Premission plans called for the astronauts to be kept in isolation for 21 days after their exposure to lunar material. If one of them had developed signs of infection by an exotic organism, or if some adverse effects had appeared in the living systems being tested, their confinement could have been extended. Samples were to be kept until results were in from all the biological protocols, which would be completed within 50 to 80 days after the samples entered the receiving laboratory, depending on test results.72

From the medical standpoint the quarantine of the astronauts was absolutely uneventful. Not the slightest sign of ill effects appeared in any of the astronauts, the support personnel, or the technicians who were quarantined after two breaches of containment in the vacuum laboratory.* So, after reviewing the results of initial biological testing and finding no evidence of infectious agents, the Interagency Committee on Back Contamination agreed to release the astronauts and their companions in confinement at 1 a.m. on August 11, one day earlier than originally planned. The committee recommended, however, that they be kept under medical surveillance until biological testing was complete and the samples were released.73

The early morning hour for release was quite likely chosen in the hope of avoiding a wild scramble with the news media at the door of the crew quarters. But after a month of close confinement Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were not inclined to stay an hour longer than necessary; so at 9 p.m. on August 10, after the last medical examinations had been completed, they walked out of the living quarters, made some brief remarks to the few reporters present, and were whisked away to their homes.74 After a press conference on the morning of the 12th, the astronauts were scheduled to leave on a worldwide personal appearance tour.

* The first, a rupture of a glove in the vacuum system on Aug. 1 (see above), sent two technicians into quarantine; on Aug. 5 a leak in an autoclave exposed four more to lunar materials. The most direct exposure to lunar soil occurred on July 25 when a photo technician picked up a film magazine that Buzz Aldrin had dropped on the lunar surface and found his hand covered with the tenacious black dust. He was already in quarantine but had to decontaminate himself by showering for five minutes. K. L. Suit, "Apollo 11 LRL Daily Summary Report, 1200 July 25 to 1200 July 26."

72. Johnston et al., Biomedical Results of Apollo, p. 419.

73. "Minutes, Interagency Committee on Back Contamination," Aug. 10, 1969.

74. Don Kirkman, "Germ-Free Apollos Sent Home," Washington Daily News, Aug. 11, 1969; Albert Sehlstedt, Jr., "Astronauts Brace For Celebrations," Baltimore Sun, Aug. 12, 1969.