Fascinating late-summer reading for FQXi-fans can be found here, in a Time magazine article from December . . . 1967. The article outlines the various precautions that our boys in the Apollo space program would be taking against inadvertently bringing moonlings back to Earth – that is, against accidentally transporting indigenous lunar bacteria home.
Most folks I talk to are...
view entire post
Fascinating late-summer reading for FQXi-fans can be found here
, in a Time magazine article from December . . . 1967. The article outlines the various precautions that our boys in the Apollo space program would be taking against inadvertently bringing moonlings back to Earth – that is, against accidentally transporting indigenous lunar bacteria home.
Most folks I talk to are unfamiliar with this part of Apollo and find it a bit hard to credence. Isn’t the moon just a “dirty beach,” even geologically inactive, the quintessential dead rock floating in space? The fact is that we all pretty much assume this, but we really don’t know.
Which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Consider the fact that we didn’t actually know until the last decade whether there was water ice
preserved in deep craters on the moon. This is fairly basic information. When the lunar module landed in July of ’69, Apollo planners now admit, it wasn’t by any means certain that it wouldn’t just keep sinking into meters of dust. There’s a lot we are guessing about with regard to our nearest neighbor.
Besides, the risk of microbial cross-contamination from other words is an entirely sensible concern, as anybody involved with the Phoenix
Lander missions can tell you. Since the rovers aren’t coming back, no one at Phoenix has to worry about a sudden outbreak of bacterial or -- heavens! -- viral infection stemming from the red planet. (One wonders whether alien viruses would be able to infect human hosts, say if they had a different DNA coding system, but who wants to find out?) Rather, their concern has tended in the other direction. One of the most important things to rule out in scooping up soil samples on Mars is the possibility -- increased, by the way, by the damaged biobarrier -- that any living things you find were actually transported by your machine to Mars in the first place.
So could we accidentally carry disease across the intervening hundreds of kilometers of space in the same way we unwittingly carried pathogens across the oceans?
on Apollo 11:
"After splashdown, the crew donned biological isolation garments and exited the CM into a rubber boat, where they were scrubbed down with an iodine solution to protect against “lunar germs.” They were then retrieved by helicopter and taken to the primary recovery ship, where they arrived 63 minutes after splashdown. The CM was recovered 125 minutes later . . .
The crew, the recovery physician, and a recovery technician, along with lunar samples, entered the Mobile Quarantine Facility aboard the recovery ship for transport to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory in Houston."
Reasonable as it sounds, the quarantine procedure was probably full of holes (the crew was scrubbed down with iodine?) and was in any event dropped for everything after Apollo 14. Anyway, how could it not be inadequate? The crew of Apollo 11 underwent a waiting period to see whether anybody got sick, but of course that waiting period was based on terrestrial models for infection (see “terran”
thinking). For all we know, waiting a few weeks to see whether anyone felt bad was as reasonable as the old European habit of maintaining hygiene by avoiding baths.
Granted, the lunar surface is hostile to life, being 110 or -200C, depending in whether it's day or night, as well as subject to direct cosmic rays. But we already know of extremophiles on Earth that laugh off seemingly lethal doses of radiation. Deinococcus radiodurans’ DNA, blasted apart by high-energy photons, simply rezips itself. We have found extremophiles now in arctic ice, in hot springs, even living in acid. For all we know, the lunar surface could be downright pleasant for some life-forms, at least in a dormant state. And one has to wonder whether a quick scrub down with iodine in an open-air boat would really have spelled the end for any of these guys.
The Chinese and Japanese have been courting the moon recently with orbiters, and recurrent talk of a Chinese landing
in 2020 has not been quelled by suspicion that this may prove economically infeasible. The U.S. still has a return to the moon on the books at NASA, though our resources are currently being used up in other ventures. But the day will dawn, and not too long from now. Should we be thinking again about life on our nearest neighbor before we begin making travel plans once more?
view post as summary