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In one of the stranger stories to come out of NASA of late: It was recently revealed that NASA fed moon dust to various “lower” animals and cockroaches. Yes, you read that right (and sadly, there are no surviving photos of this that we could find). They fed moon rocks and dust to cockroaches. In an effort to determine whether the pieces of the moon Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong brought back would cause problems for life on Earth, the scientists ground up pieces of the rock and fed it to various animals in years-long experiments.
This was in addition to quarantining the astronauts for weeks after they returned to Earth. During this quarantine period, the astronauts only had contact with 20 people. During the time the two were quarantined, the researchers got to work feeding the moon rocks to various animals.
They started by injecting mice with the material which were subsequently monitored for any signs of contagion just as closely as the astronauts were. According to Charles Berry, who handled all medical operations for the Apollo program, he and the researchers had to put together a testing program to make sure that anything brought back from the Moon wouldn’t be harmful to the Earth’s biosphere or to terrestrial beings.
NASA’s Biomedical Research and Environmental Sciences Division chief Judith Hayes said:
“They [the astronauts] always wanted to know how the rodents were doing. If the rodents did well, then they would likely be released on time, if the rodents weren’t well, they would likely be examined much more carefully and longer.”
Even though NASA was pretty sure the Moon didn’t contain anything contagious or otherwise harmful, they had to be absolutely sure – and couldn’t be only by testing mice and humans. So, they picked a representative of each type of species on the planet. They included:
“Japanese quail to represent birds, a couple of nondescript fish, brown shrimp and oysters for shellfish, German cockroaches and houseflies for creepy-crawlies, and more.”
After choosing the representative species, the researchers dipped into their stored moon rocks brought back by the astronauts, pulverized it, and baked half of what they used. They intended to sterilize half of it and leave the other half alone. This would create a control group the scientists could compare the not-baked rock dust to.
Next, the researchers added the dust to the water of the fish and oysters, injected the mice and quail, and mixed it into the cockroaches and flies’ food. In later experiments, NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture tested the moon dust on various plants including cabbage, onions, ferns, tomatoes, and tobacco among others – including growing seeds in it.
According to the report, some of the plants they grew did better in the lunar soil then they did in normal sand. And, of course, the cockroaches thrived (insert the joke about cockroaches being the only things left on Earth after a nuclear war…). Although a good portion of the oysters died, researchers believe that it happened as a result of experimenting during their mating season, and had nothing to do with the water since they died in both the control and dust-tainted water.
Otherwise, the animals survived and showed no signs of any contamination or problems after a month.
This isn’t the only set of experiments conducted from Apollo missions. According to the report, scientists conducted similar experiments on 15 different animal species after the Apollo 14 and 14 missions and even grew samples in Petri dishes. According to Hayes:
“They didn’t find any microbial growth on the lunar samples, and they didn’t have any microorganisms that they at least initially attributed to any extraterrestrial source or lunar source. And the crew didn’t have any signs of any infectious disease, and all the rodents survived the exams, so everybody did well.”
Ultimately, the scientists determined that the moon rocks brought back were harmless and stopped testing – and the quarantines. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something else on the moon that could come back from future missions that the original astronauts hadn’t yet encountered.
With so much focus on the moon landing of late because of the Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary, you have to wonder why it is that humans haven’t gone back to the moon since Apollo 17 — the last mission there. And whether there could be something there that could have hitched a ride back with astronauts to cause the program to be canceled. Only time and another trip to the moon will tell.
Find out where the Moon rocks are today and how they are used from Smarter Every Day:
Featured Image: Created via sources on Pixabay