In the late 60s and early 70s, while the Apollo space program continued, the NASA aerospace agency conducted rather strange scientific experiments. For 6 successful missions to the moon, the Americans brought to Earth a total of more than 380 kilograms of lunar soil samples. Most of these pristine specimens are still held in seven seals. NASA gives them to various scientific laboratories around the world in very limited quantities – only a few grams. However, almost all of the first 22 kilograms of lunar soil brought to Earth as part of the Apollo 11 mission were used for scientific and medical experiments on living things.
1 Why quarantine?
2 Why experiment with animals?
3 How were experiments with animals?
4 Is there life on the moon?
5 Is lunar soil dangerous?
Today, astronauts and astronauts who returned from space, who worked on board the International Space Station, leave the spacecraft and, as they say, go out to people immediately after landing. However, even during the first space flights in the 60s, and in particular flights to the moon, scientists did not know whether the space environment and lunar soil, which the astronauts brought with them, were safe.
After returning to Earth, the Apollo 11 astronauts were quarantined in special bio-protective suits and transported in an airtight van to a research laboratory
As soon as the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin returned home, they were isolated from the external environment, put in a special enclosed space for quarantine. They spent several weeks in it. During all this time, only 20 scientists contacted the astronauts, who were also in quarantine all this time.
Why experiment with animals?
Scientists were not sure whether the brought samples of the lunar soil with which the astronauts worked had any microorganisms that could lead to an outbreak of new infectious diseases. Thus, while some scientists tested astronauts for the possibility of developing space infections, other NASA experts conducted medical experiments with part of the lunar samples on animals.
According to NASA researcher Charles Berry, who participated in these experiments, he and his colleagues must make sure that moon dust is completely safe for the entire ecosystem of the Earth. Not only for humans, but also for animals, plants, birds, fish and insects.
To conduct the tests, scientists selected several representatives of living creatures of each species. For example, as a representative of the bird family, NASA used Japanese quail for experiments.
Marine life was represented by species of gray and pink shrimp, as well as some species of oysters, guppy aquarium fish and small freshwater carps. As representatives of insects for experiments with moon dust, ordinary house flies, moths, and also red cockroaches were chosen. In addition, laboratory mice were used.
How were experiments with animals?
First, scientists ground the samples of lunar soil (regolith) into fine powder, and then sterilized at high temperatures. Safety testing of moon dust on living things was done differently. For example, birds and mice were given intramuscular injections with a solution containing lunar regolith particles. For marine inhabitants who were put in aquariums, dust was poured into the water. And for insects, the dust was mixed with food.
In addition to animal and insect tests, NASA, together with the US Department of Agriculture, tested the safety of moon dust for terrestrial plants. During the experiments, ground samples of lunar soil were added to ordinary earth. Then, seeds of various crops were planted in this soil: tomatoes, tobacco, cabbage, onions, asparagus, corn and others.
All plants survived and sprouted.
… and a tobacco plant
Interestingly, some of the plants used in the experiment even showed better growth in soil with lunar regolith than in ordinary terrestrial sandy soil, which scientists used for comparison.
Is there life on the moon?
Waterlogging of the Apollo 14 mission lander
Similar experiments with animals and plants NASA conducted after the space missions Apollo 12 and Apollo 14. In total, 15 different species of living organisms were used in the experiments. In addition, the agency tried to cultivate samples of the lunar soil by placing them in Petri dishes. Thus, scientists wanted to make sure that the lunar soil does not contain extraterrestrial microorganisms that can produce growth.
But in the end, nothing grew out of the moon dust. She was completely sterile.
Is lunar soil dangerous?
According to the results of all studies, no extraterrestrial microbes were found in lunar soil samples. Astronauts who collected samples of lunar regolith on the satellite also did not reveal any viruses, bacteria or other pathogens of infectious diseases. Everyone was healthy. As well as the people who contacted them in the course of research already on Earth.
Almost all species of animals that were used in the experiments also survived. And cockroaches as well. Which is not at all surprising. These insects are generally able to survive anything.
It is noted that only some oysters that lived in water with particles of lunar soil died. But scientists explain this result not by the composition of the water, but by the fact that at the time of the experiments, the oysters had a mating (breeding) season. During the experiments, the oysters experienced severe stress due to changing living conditions. However, in subsequent studies involving oysters, which were conducted after the Apollo 12 mission, they all survived.
See also: How many times have people landed on the moon?
Finally convinced of the safety of lunar regolith, NASA stopped experimenting on living things. But they continued until the completion of the Apollo 14 space mission in 1971. After that, people flew to the Earth’s satellite three more times. But the agency no longer carried out quarantine procedures for astronauts returning from the moon, as well as for scientists who then worked with them.
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