Monday, October 17, 2011

Space travel: Returning from the moon | The Economist

Knowing the character and humour of the early NASA astronauts, you will not be surprised to know that this is a true story and an actual US Customs form completed by the Apollo 11 crew.

My favourite bit of this is the line asking whether there was "any condition on board which may lead to the spread of disease", and someone has typed "TO BE DETERMINED".

It seems a bit 'science-fiction-esque' but, in tose early learning days, there were real concerns about the health and welfare of the astronauts and the risk of contamination.

NASA assigned a contamination expert who studied the health effects of moon dust, and consequently, the Apollo 11 astronauts were quarantined for a short period, upon their return from the moon.

For Information:
Apollo 11 splashed down 920 miles (1,480 km) southwest of Hawaii and 13 miles (21 km) from the USS Hornet, a Navy ship sent to recover the crew.

It took a two more days for the astronauts to actually return to Hawaii on July 26, where they were welcomed with a July 27 ceremony at Pearl Harbour.

The catch
The astronauts were confined inside a NASA trailer as part of a quarantine effort just in case they brought back any germs or disease from the moon.

They had to wear special biological containment suits when they walked out on the deck of the USS Hornet, after being retrieved.

NASA transported them to Houston, quarantine trailer and all, and they emerged from isolation three weeks later.

The truth, alas, is less fun than the joke. Then again, if you were going to spend three weeks cooped up in an isolation trailer, you might need a laugh, too.

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