In July 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went where others had only dreamed to go. After years of design and development by NASA, they dared to journey to the surface of the Moon. The world watched, holding its breath.
When Armstrong and Aldrin set foot upon the Moon, they became the first in history to walk the lunar surface, and the world rejoiced at the feat.
Prior to a lunar landing, there were enormous challenges and unknowns to overcome. What would it be like on the Moon? Was the surface rocky or covered with deep layers of dust? Apollo mission landing areas were chosen for being relatively free of big rocks, for safety. NASA had photos of the surface from probes and previous uncrewed missions. If there were organisms on the Moon, could they contaminate Earth?
In case there were contaminants, the three astronauts donned Biological Isolation Garments (BIGs) upon returning to Earth. Once the command module splashed down into the ocean, the crew opened the hatch and were handed the garments by the recovery task force divers.
Once all three astronauts were zipped up in their suits, they boarded a rubber raft and proceeded to be washed down with disinfectant to kill any foreign substances brought back from their expedition to the Moon.
The astronauts then boarded the recovery ship and were placed into a Mobile Quarantine Facility for the trip back to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory in Houston where they were further examined for lunar contaminants during a three-week quarantine period. The quarantine measures are mentioned in the following clip released by NASA upon the successful return of the Apollo 11 crew.
Not every Apollo mission had to undergo these strict quarantine measures, however. After Apollo 12, it was conceded that the Moon lacked life, and the containment garments were no longer used.
The bio-isolation garment featured in our Astronaut Gallery was worn by Collins, who was the Command Module Pilot for the Apollo 11 mission.
Collins recounts his spectacular space expeditions in his book Liftoff (1988):
“From a lifetime of prowling its surface, I know that the Earth is a huge, solid, rugged place, but from my window now it looks fragile somehow, smooth as a billiard ball, but delicate as a Christmas tree ornament. I wish I had some way of protecting it, of keeping it pristine.”
Our visitors can view this special piece of history in our Astronaut Gallery, along with other Apollo-era artifacts and astronaut portraits.
On loan from the National Air and Space Museum.