Sitting in a tin can

May 15th, 2013 by

Randall Munroe, in conclusion, on the Hadfield video:

While that’s far from the most anyone’s paid for a guitar, it’s certainly a lot of money. And if playing music helps the astronauts relax and keep from going crazy while they’re crammed together in a tin can for months at a time, it’s probably a worthwhile investment.

As it happens, NASA – are we surprised? – have long before tested the combination of astronauts, musical instruments, and confined spaces.

When the Apollo 11 crew returned from the moon, they were swiftly locked inside the “Mobile Quarantine Facility”, a pressurised trailer designed to stop any lunar diseases escaping. (They were joined by a doctor and a technician, and presumably everyone carefully ignored the aircraft carrier they would have contaminated en route). After a couple of days, they were transferred to a set of living quarters with twelve other people, and spent the next three weeks waiting to see what happened.

(With impeccable logic, it was ruled that if any of them contracted inexplicable urgent medical problems, they would be transferred out of quarantine and into a hospital, which somewhat defeated the point…)

However… well, three weeks in what was essentially a laboratory. No matter how careful the psychological screening, it’s a daunting thought. “[O]nly meager provision had been made for recreation,” according to the official history; they had a ping-pong table and a television.

And, so, some enterprising genius shipped Neil Armstrong a ukulele. It is not recorded what his colleagues thought of this, but in the picture below they do seem to have an avid interest in the sealed door…


Interior view of Mobile Quarantine Facility with Apollo 11 crewmembers [S69-40210]

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One Response to “Sitting in a tin can”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Love the picture.

    My understanding is that the quarantine trailer was actually on the carrier, so (assuming they didn’t contaminate everything between the capsule and the trailer) they would not have contaminated the carrier itself. But if the plan was to transfer them to a hospital if they got sick, you’re right, that would have defeated the purpose anyway.

    I think the reality is that nobody really expected there to be germs on the moon, but they thought a few days or weeks in quarantine couldn’t hurt.

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