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  Apollo 11: Post-flight quarantine procedures

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Author Topic:   Apollo 11: Post-flight quarantine procedures
Paul78zephyr
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Posts: 414
From: Hudson, MA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 03-02-2015 03:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul78zephyr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm reading Bob Fish's excellent book 'Hornet + 3' and cannot understand why the Apollo 11 crew was not recovered while still inside the sealed command module. If back contamination was really an issue then I would think opening the hatch of a potentially 'contaminated' spacecraft in a non-controlled environment (open seas) would not be a good idea.

The command module was later "sealed" to the mobile quarantine facility onboard the Hornet so this could have been done while the crew was still inside. Then there could be no chance of contamination. Obviously there were experts who knew different so what am I missing?

golddog
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From: australia
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posted 03-03-2015 12:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for golddog     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think a main reason was that NASA wanted to get the crew out as quickly as possible, in case any unseen damage to the spacecraft led to sinking or issues getting to the crew. Another aspect was that the CM was not a good boat. It was possible to get very ill, very fast.

onesmallstep
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From: Staten Island, New York USA
Registered: Nov 2007

posted 03-03-2015 08:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for onesmallstep   Click Here to Email onesmallstep     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Yes, just ask the Gemini 8 crew, who probably had the longest wait between splashdown and recovery and understandably 'lost their cookies' (Scott Carpenter ranks a close second in waiting time - but his experience post-reentry was nothing short of giddy by all accounts).

Even with floatation collars attached, and Navy salts among the astronaut crew, I can imagine a spell on the high seas in a bobbing capsule is no picnic! I guess the future crews of the Orion spacecraft will have an easier time when they are recovered while still aboard their capsule by one of the Navy's amphibious landing ships.

moorouge
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From: U.K.
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posted 03-03-2015 08:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'll agree that Gemini 8 had a long time to wait in the capsule before recovery. However, Carpenter's wait was spent in a life raft and not in the capsule.

This would seem to suggest that the second longest wait actually in the capsule was by the crew of Apollo 8 who had an enforced wait of about 45 minutes for sunrise before recovery operations could begin.

For the absolute longest time crews had to spend in a capsule one has to turn to two 48 hour tests of the Apollo CM that used capsule CM-007, a 'non-flight' designated production line capsule.

The first of these took place in the Gulf of Mexico between 30 Sept. and 2 Oct. 1966. The crew comprised of test subjects from NASA Crew Systems Division (Clancy, Ward and DeWolf) and used CM-007 in its Block 1 configuration.

The second, also in the Gulf, used Apollo astronauts (Lovell, Roosa and Duke) and took place between 5 to 7 April 1968. By this time CM-007 had been modified to a Block 2 capsule and was designated CM-007A.

Paul78zephyr
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From: Hudson, MA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 03-03-2015 02:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul78zephyr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I cannot believe that very short term crew 'discomfort' was a overriding concern when the potential for contamination of the Earth with alien pathogens was supposedly being taken seriously. The CM wasn't much of a boat but adequate flotation collars, etc., could be (and were) installed as soon as the first UDT/recovery swimmers reached it. Once installed I can't see how the CM could sink or the crew be in danger.

What they did - taking the crew out without true containment (BIGs and all...) just does not make sense.

Ronpur
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From: Brandon, Fl
Registered: May 2012

posted 03-03-2015 05:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ronpur   Click Here to Email Ronpur     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It never made sense to me either. I often wonder if it was just all a show for the public!

Blackarrow
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From: Belfast, United Kingdom
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posted 03-03-2015 07:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If there had been any serious concern about alien diseases, the President of the United States would not have been on board to meet the crew of Apollo 11.

moorouge
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From: U.K.
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posted 03-04-2015 12:44 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I suspect the answer is that when all the risks were assessed, the removal of the crew before recovering the capsule was the lesser of several evils.

To mention just a couple. The immediate surroundings of a returning Apollo capsule had the potential of being highly toxic and dangerous. There were several clearly defined 'no-go' areas for the recovery crews as they removed the astronauts. It would make sense to get them out of this environment as soon as possible. Then the capsule could be made as safe as was reasonably possible before it was recovered and attached to the MQF.

Incidentally, the floatation collar was not just a precaution against the capsule sinking. It provided also a working platform for the recovery personel.

Another reason was that it gave an early opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the BIGs and detect any breaches in the arrangements. Had there been any problems the Hornet and all those onboard were to stay at sea for twenty one days. With the President and his staff onboard, this would have created untold difficulties for the government and its day to day functions. As it was, there was a contingency plan to fly the President off the ship before the astronauts arrived onboard had there been a breach of their isolation procedures.

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 03-04-2015 02:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Paul78zephyr:
What they did - taking the crew out without true containment (BIGs and all...) just does not make sense.
John Stonesifer, who at the time of Apollo 11's splashdown was chief of NASA's landing and recovery division, comments about this in his 2001 oral history.
There are several weaknesses in the system. First of all, the spacecraft, having been linked to the lunar module, the lunar module was on the surface of the Moon. So we had to rule that out, and the thought processes there were that the heat of reentry would possibly destroy anything that was coming back on the exterior of the spacecraft, which seemed logical. Or if when it landed into the water, the dilution factor of the ocean was another backup to the heat of reentry. But the spacecraft vented in the air. So there wasn't anything we could do about that, except when the pararescue men got there and put the collar — you know what I'm talking about on this flotation collar that we put around all the spacecraft — and that was put on, a lot of people say, "Well, that was put on so it didn't sink."

Well, it was put on primarily to give the pararescue men a platform to work from to assist astronauts out of the spacecraft. So the pararescue men put the collar around the spacecraft, and they had tanks of betadyne, and they sprayed the entire top deck of the Apollo spacecraft to decontaminate it, because that's where the ventilators were. Then a weakness in the system here, one of the pararescue men — I call them pararescue men, these were Navy people, UDT, frogmen — opened the hatch and threw in what we called "the bag of BIGs," the bag of biological isolation garment. So here again, you open the hatch. What else are you going to do? We went through these processes with this Interagency Committee and got their approval, and we challenged anybody, "If you can think of something else, have at it."

onesmallstep
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From: Staten Island, New York USA
Registered: Nov 2007

posted 03-04-2015 08:55 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for onesmallstep   Click Here to Email onesmallstep     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The fallacy (and even humor) of the 'moon germ' precautions was borne out with the use of only breathing masks by the Apollo 12 and 14 crews on their return. They looked like painters on their way to work, not space explorers!

I guess Hollywood got the last word in when they released 'The Andromeda Strain' in 1971, and the real Lunar Receiving Lab in Houston was referenced as one of the reasons the vast underground containment/research center depicted in the movie was built to process a satellite that came back with a deadly germ.

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 03-04-2015 11:29 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My understanding is that the presence of moon germs (and therefore, the need for quarantine) was treated as an assumption rather than a belief.

Unlike, for example, the planning now beginning for the return of samples (and later astronauts) from Mars, there was no widely held belief at the time of the Apollo landings that the moon supported biologicals. And that is why the precautions were stepped down after just one mission.

moonguyron
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Posts: 77
From: Salado, Texas, USA
Registered: Jan 2011

posted 03-05-2015 11:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moonguyron   Click Here to Email moonguyron     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You mention reading the book "Hornet Plus Three." On page 122, there are pictures of the Apollo 11 crew exiting the helicopter and entering the MQF after recovery.

Also in the picture you see Dr. Bill Carpentier in the orange flight suit. He and MQF technician John Hirasaki joined the crew for their entire quarantine (along with some unexpected other folks as the quarantine progressed, but that's another story.)

Dr. Carpentier, the flight surgeon, told me he was apprised of the possible contamination hazards and out of an abundance of caution both he and John had to sign a paper agreeing to be quarantined indefinitely if problems arose. If it were found in the most remote case that some bug for which there was no protection was detected they essentially agreed in writing that there would be no end to their quarantine.

moorouge
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Posts: 1952
From: U.K.
Registered: Jul 2009

posted 03-11-2015 12:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is from a NASA Press Release dated 16th May 1969 -
The crew of Apollo 11, on their return from the Moon, will be transferred to the recovery ship by helicopter as in past flights and go immediately into a mobile quarantine facility for the trip by sea and air to Houston. NASA had considered having the astronauts remain inside the Command Module, while it was hoisted onto the recovery ship as a precaution against back contamination of the Earth environment by any alien organisms they may have carried home from the Moon. The decision to retain the helicopter lift was made for the safety of the crew after a review of the loads involved in transferring the Command Module to the deck, particularly in a heavy sea, and of the reliability of shipboard cranes and the capacity of available load-limiting elastic tackle.

All times are CT (US)

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