NASA fed some of its precious Apollo 11 lunar samples to cockroaches, dumped it in fishbowls and injected mice with it.
NASA really did feed some of its precious moon rocks to house flies and plants.
NASA has most of the moon rocks the Apollo 11 crew brought home, but a small fraction of the astronauts’ bounty was used up in a vitally important set of experiments that ensured lunar samples were safe to keep here on Earth.
- Scientists were pretty sure that there weren’t any potentially dangerous germs living on the moon, but they were not absolutely sure.
- As a part of the agency’s preparations for the mission, NASA had to put together a program of tests.
- Charles Berry, who was in charge of medical operations during Apollo, said in a 1999 oral history. “Any of the Earth’s biosphere, we had to prove we weren’t going to affect it.
- The astronauts were shuffled into quarantine after their return to Earth, where they remained isolated from all for three weeks, from the moment Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left the moon.
- A collection of mice were injected with lunar material and were monitored just as closely as the crew, who also joined in the watch.
- NASA watched the menagerie for a month in case anything seemed to suffer from the lunar exposure.
- The German cockroaches that were fed moon dust — true to the insects’ reputation — thrived despite the exotic diet.
- The results of these tests provided no information that would indicate that the lunar samples returned by the Apollo 11 mission contained replicating agents hazardous to life on earth.
- Similar experiments were conducted after Apollo 12 and 14 as well and tested a total of 15 different animal species, according to a NASA document.
- NASA was confident that lunar regolith was harmless. After Apollo 14, in 1971, the agency stopped testing animals and ended the strict quarantine procedures for astronauts returning from the moon