Yes, NASA yes, really did feed few of its precious moon rocks to residence flies and plants.

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Lab technicians research mice the were injected v lunar material accumulated during Apollo 11 in a photograph taken in august 1969.(Image credit: NASA)
It"s as well weird to do up: NASA fed few of its valuable Apollo 11 lunar samples to cockroaches. And dumped that in fishbowls. And injected mice with it. No, really.

NASA still has most of the moon rocks the Apollo 11 crew lugged home, but a small fraction of the astronauts" bounty was used up in a little-known however vitally important collection of experiments that ensured lunar samples were safe to keep right here on Earth.

Scientists to be pretty certain that over there weren"t any type of potentially dangerous virus living top top the moon, but they couldn"t it is in absolutely sure. And while the retrieval that moon rocks was an tremendous gift to science, it might have been rather a curse on earth if those rocks had actually turned the end to be a danger to terrestrial life. So as component of the agency"s preparations for the mission, NASA had to placed together a program of tests.

"We had actually to prove that us weren"t going to contaminate not only human being beings, but we weren"t going come contaminate fish and also birds and animals and plants and also you surname it," Charles Berry, who was in charge of clinical operations during Apollo, claimed in a 1999 oral history. "Any of the Earth"s biosphere, we had to prove us weren"t walking to affect it. Therefore we had actually to construct an amazing program that was carried off yes, really for 3 flights" worth. A most trouble."

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The astronauts themselves were shuffled into quarantine ~ their go back to Earth, wherein they stayed isolated indigenous all however 20 humans for three weeks, native the moment Neil Armstrong and also Buzz Aldrin left the moon. A arsenal of mice likewise shot come fame when the astronauts to be in quarantine: They to be injected with lunar material and also were monitored just as very closely as the crew, who additionally joined in the watch.

"They always wanted come know exactly how the rodents to be doing," Judith Hayes, cook of NASA"s Biomedical Research and Environmental scientific researches Division, who provided to work in the structure that once housed the quarantine facility and also who has talked with researchers who attach the astronauts during that time, told "If the rodents go well, then they would most likely be exit on time, if the rodents weren"t well, lock would likely be examined much an ext carefully and also longer."

But confirming humans and mice would make it through a possibility lunar conference wasn"t enough, and also keeping all other terrestrial life for sure was a tiny more complex than watching because that coughs or rashes. One NASA file refers to trying to create procedures together navigating a "sea the ignorance" and emphasized the the writer couldn"t predict just how much moon rock the tests castle outlined would certainly consume.

A rap technician research studies a Japanese quail that was exposed come lunar samples accumulated by the Apollo 11 mission. (Image credit: NASA)

First, NASA chose the varieties it would certainly use. In enhancement to the mice, the agency and the partners also selected various other representative species: Japanese quail to represent birds, a couple of nondescript fish, brown shrimp and also oysters for shellfish, German cockroaches and also houseflies because that creepy-crawlies, and also more. (Sadly, while we uncovered images of the mice, birds and plants, the moon rock-eating roaches eluded us.)

Then, the company tapped into its priceless cache that 49 lbs. (22 kilograms) that newly ceded lunar material. Researchers ground everything to dust, half of which they baked to sterilize and fifty percent of which lock left together it was. The prescription differed a tiny with animal type: mice and also quail got the lunar sample together an injection, insects had actually the sample mixed into their food and aquatic pets had the moon dust added to the water they lived in.

NASA watched the menagerie because that a month in situation anything appeared to suffer from the lunar exposure. The German cockroaches that were fed moon dust — true to the insects" call — thrived in spite of the exotic diet. And also all the animals did well, v one glaring exception: whether in lunar water or not, many of the oysters died, which the researchers chalked up to having actually tested pets during their mating season.

"The results of these tests detailed no info that would suggest that the lunar samples returned by the Apollo 11 mission had replicating agents hazardous to life on earth," concluded the writer of a document recounting the tests on "lower animals" released in the journal scientific research a year ~ Apollo 11.

NASA thrived a variety of terrestrial plants, including liverwort, in lunar floor (above). (Image credit: NASA)

In enhancement to trial and error animals, NASA likewise worked through the U.S. Room of agriculture (USDA) to check plants for any adverse reactions to lunar material, simply in case. (As a USDA employee newsletter released in august 1969 recounted, "What will certainly a small moon dust carry out to her tomato plants? more than likely nothing.") these experiments included growing seeds in lunar soil and tested not just tomatoes, but likewise tobacco, cabbage, onion and also fern. Some of these plants actually grew much better in the regolith than in the sand scientists offered as a comparison.

Similar experiment were conducted after Apollo 12 and 14 together well and also tested a full of 15 different animal species, follow to a NASA document. While the animal and also plant tests to be ongoing, NASA also cultured samples on petri dishes to search for any kind of microorganisms the flourished.

Other plants exposed to lunar samples consisted of sorghum and tobacco plants. (Image credit: NASA)

"They didn"t find any kind of microbial growth on the lunar samples, and also they didn"t have any kind of microorganisms that they at least originally attributed to any type of extraterrestrial source or lunar source. And also the crew didn"t have any signs that an transmittable disease, and all the rodents survived the exams, for this reason everybody go well," Hayes said.

Finally, NASA to be confident the lunar regolith was harmless. After Apollo 14, in 1971, the agency stopped experimentation animals and also ended the strictly quarantine measures for astronauts return from the moon. It likewise stopped quarantining laboratory technicians working with lunar samples who might have come in call with the moon rocks.

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NASA had great reason to get rid of the animal tests, the course. "Planetary scientists were unhappy about the lot of product which they perceived as wasted on this experiments and the degree to i beg your pardon quarantine reduced the focus on planetary research," follow to a NASA report.