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“Zero, all engines running. We have a liftoff. One small step for man…”
Alright, I guess we should just say what's going on.
We thought it'd be a good time to talk about a part of the Apollo 11 mission that often
gets overlooked, which was the quarantine: including time in a refitted Airstream trailer
and a lab. You're gonna get to see some of the engineering
that NASA's really famous for, but applied to a totally different problem, which is:
how do you keep a lunar plague from hitting the Earth?
Yeah. We've done a few other episodes of this
where one of us knows something, the other doesn't. This time, we've all just been
cramming on quarantine facts about this Apollo 11 quarantine.
And seeing so many men in, like, short sleeve shirts.
And we're gonna talk to Amy Teitel from Vintage Space, a channel that Phil and I both
really like. So yeah, this is the quarantine edition of
History Club. Yay. I wanted to talk about the stuff before we
get with Amy though, like about the period of the 20th century and vaccinations in general.
The moon landing is happening in July of 1969. It was kind of an optimistic time in the middle
of the 20th century: measles, mumps, polio, these had all been beaten back and, like,
we felt pretty good about being able to contain potential diseases.
Even though there's an extremely low probability that anything contaminated is on the moon,
if there was even a chance that they could bring something back, it would be truly novel
and potentially devastating to life on Earth. Alright, can you see that?
Yeah. Oh wait, this is the quote that I love. “They
will be treated not as heroes, but as bearers of the most virulent devastating plague the
world has ever known.” I love that. And plague is spelled wrong.
This is how Venom in Spiderman got to Earth. So...this is important stuff. This is an idea
that we've become very familiar with now, because we have the coronavirus is so dangerous
is because no human's ever had it before. And if there were an alien lunar plague, no
human had ever had it before, so it's kind of the same threat.
Which is why they took no chances and put them in quarantine.
It's a very blunt approach, but it's really interesting that that was kind of like, this
is our surest bet. They've developed the need for this quarantine,
and then they've got this problem of how to logistically make it happen, to get these
astronauts from the middle of the ocean all the way to the lunar receiving lab in Houston.
With no exposure to Earth's environment at all.
Yes. In theory. In theory.
Pete will be in the background. Hey Pete.
Hi Pete, nice to meet you. He says “meow.” I gave him some catnip
so he's a little bit stoned right now, it's pretty fun.
Oh good. And so this first clip that I have is...let
me load it up. So what they're practicing is, they want
to get the astronauts out of the command module and onto a helicopter basically, with as little
contamination as possible to try to preserve this quarantine.
It makes sense that they had to train to do this, but it's still crazy to think about
it, that like you're going through this excitement of being about to go to the moon
and you're training for how you're gonna get into your quarantine suit.
But it does make sense, I mean, how bad would it be if the mission went off beautifully,
everything was great, rah rah America landing on the moon, and then they get back and they
forget to put on the suit right and, like, someone falls in the ocean and then everyone
gets sick. Like, womp womp, that'd be a big damper. So, I kinda get it.
It's actually from when they were training with the B.I.G. suits, or Big suits.
And that's the Biological Isolation Garment, right?
Yeah. I've only read it, so I don't know how
it was pronounced in conversation. It'd be way too cumbersome to not just say
Big Suit. I know right, especially NASA the land of
the acronym. So here they're all just kinda waiting to
go through the training. I do love how much all this footage shows,
like, being an astronaut is a lot of sitting and listening quietly.
Yeah. Yeah.
A lot of meetings. It looks like they brought it down upside
down too. Yeah, they dumped it upside down and then
inflated the balloons to flip it. And that flotation collar is exactly what
it sounds like, it adds buoyancy and gives them a platform to step out of. Because again,
we learned from Gus Grissom in 1961, right, when his hatch blew early, and the capsule
filled with water and sunk. You kinda need to give some kind of barrier from the water
rushing into this capsule, otherwise, again, you end on a very poor note after a great
mission. There's a very large issue that the whole
quarantine thing in this move of, like, you just opened the capsule.
Quarantine for Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 as well started the moment they closed the hatch
after the lunar EVA. The moonwalk. So everything that had been exposed was sealed up, and of
course on the way back, you're not opening the capsule at all, there's nothing to introduce
anything new, no one's interacting with it, so you've got this thing that's been
sealed for like four days and you just opened up the air and then reseal it. It's a bit
of a weak link in the chain there, but there was no better option.
They also, they sprayed them down, right, they threw the suits in, put them on, and
then sprayed them with chemicals. And so here that's them, they've gotten
out, they're wearing the B.I.G. suits, and this is just a practice run but this is pretty
much how it happened. And so then the next stage of their journey is, they're in their
B.I.G. suits and they make it onto the USS Hornet, which is a big aircraft carrier. And
their goal is to enter the Mobile Quarantine Facility, so that is the next video that I
have lined up here. That's why up here it says Hornet + 3 on
the Mobile Quarantine Facility because the astronauts are the additional three who are
on the Hornet. Oh wait, I think this is the clip when they
walk out in their suits, the guy just in a tie sprays it down after. I love that.
And so the people who went in there, it was a doctor, William Carpentier, and John Hiarasaki
who was the project engineer basically, and so those two guys are going inside and hanging
out with these astronauts for the entire period the Mobile Quarantine Facility is traveling.
According to this, all of the stuff that was not human would be flown directly to the Lunar
Receiving Lab. You know, the rocks were in these rock boxes that were very protected
and also sterile. You want to get that there as quickly as possible so that can be flown
in a small plane and flown from the carrier deck. The ship meanwhile has to go to a base,
it has to dock somewhere, at which point the MQF will be mobile (as it's named).
This very fancily named thing was just a converted Airstream trailer, so that gives you a sense
of how not big it was. Because they had to put it on a plane and
a ship and drive it around. The bottom of this plane opens and then you
just kind of roll this thing in and then you fly it to Houston.
Neil Armstrong played ukulele a bit, and there's a great picture of him. And I think it's
through the glass in that window that Nixon was talking to them through, because it's
got this ghostly artifact that gives it this ethereal feel almost, like he's just in
this little suit lowkey strumming the ukulele. About the MQF, they also adjusted the air
pressure right, so it'd be lower pressure inside, so if there was a leak, air would
go in and not out. And they've got these souped up bars on
the bottom, right — they ditched the wheels and they had to reinforce it structurally.
Oh and they had a microwave — which is very new in 1969, that's like a high tech innovation.
Nice. The Mini-Fridge. This is looking a bit like a college dorm room right now.
Exactly. They're landing at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory
or LRL, which is in Houston, it was specially built near what is now the Johnson Space Center
that was like one of the most state of the art quarantineable facilities. Even the staff
that went in had to go through UV showers and you could not have any medical thing — you
could not be pregnant to work in there — everything was super sterile. Anyone that was interacting
with the crew had to be very clean and healthy to make sure that the crew did not get sick
but also that they did not get you sick. Is this the press room? Right here? Where
they're celebrating his birthday? I think that's the press room. So you can
see it looks like on the other side of the wall are a bunch of women, so probably the
wives and family. So they can be there and celebrate but they can't actually be in
the same space. But on this side of the glass, where we are watching from is the clean facility,
and this is where they are celebrating Neil Armstrong's 39th birthday, because he was
still in quarantine when that happened. This is so cute, I've never actually seen
this footage of them making the cake, I've seen him cutting and serving the cake — this
is awesome. If there was found to be something potentially
bad in one of the samples or the crew got sick and there was some containment breach
of the sick party, everyone who worked in the LRL signed a waiver saying they agreed
that if they were exposed to a contaminant, they would quarantine themselves for an indefinite
period afterwards as directed by NASA. There's a lot in this — in the medical
offices, there's a lot of beds. There's a lot of tables and things in the offices
and living space. That's a lot of people and the second diagram shows you that's
a third of the area of the entire LRL. That's a big space for a lot of people to live and
work. In addition to the quarantine of the astronauts,
what kind of experiments are going on in the other half of the Lunar Receiving Lab?
A lot of the experiments they were doing were looking at the rocks, classifying the rocks,
bio-classifying if need be to figure out exactly what they had gotten and figure out what's
going to happen with these samples next. I think Apollo 11 didn't bring back too too
much because they only did one short EVA — later missions brought back a lot more.
And so, I found some pretty crazy tables of some of the tests that they did on the biological
elements. I'm gonna tell you all this, one of the
experiments they did was they ground up some moon rocks, made a formula out of it and injected
it into a Japanese Quail. What? Why?
Why? Just to see if it made the bird sick.
Like, why? Were they gonna do that to humans? Did they think moon rock dust was gonna be
the new street drug? Right. All the kids are on moon dust.
I think that's pretty much what they did to the mice too...um….
They spend their time in the Lunar Receiving Lab, they don't have a moon plague —
—They don't die — — they don't have a lunar plague. They
don't have a moon bug. They get out, they go on this world tour, everything's fine.
Hip hip hooray. Is there anything about the Apollo 11 quarantine,
either procedurally or the context of how people were feeling about it at the time that
we didn't talk about? Um.
How much NASA learned over its relatively short existence before Apollo 11's launch
to anticipate the worst and hope for the best. Anticipating the crew dying at launch, anticipating
the crew dying, I mean there were abort procedures for every mission stage, there were speeches
for if they died on the moon, down to what do we do if they pick up something deadly
in space. I think it really speaks to how many people have to be involved to predict
or prepare for something like this. It speaks to how well NASA really thought outside the
box, especially after the Apollo 1 fire to anticipate everything that could possibly
go wrong and put everything in place to mitigate that, so that if the worst happened they would
at least be the best prepared. The LRL was built purposely for bringing them back from
the moon. It was not just like “Let's outfit this building,” it was a custom facility
for this need. And it's a lot of planning and a lot of preparation. And a lot of acknowledging
just how bad things could be to hopefully never have to get there.
People find you on YouTube and you've also released a book. What is that about?
It's called Fighting for Space, I always have to read my own subtitle, two pilots and
their historic battle for female space flight, and it's effectively a dual biography of
two pilots who were navigating being professional fliers at a time when it was not common for
women to be professional fliers while America was making the transition from aviation to
spaceflight and what that meant for the women who wanted to be involved.
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Why NASA quarantined the Apollo 11 astronauts

18 Folder Collection
Winnie Liao published on April 20, 2020
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