It’s too unusual to comprise: NASA fed a few of its valuable Apollo 11 lunar samples to cockroaches. And discarded it in fishbowls. And injected mice with it. No, actually.

NASA still has the majority of the moon rocks the Apollo 11 team brought house, however a little portion of the astronauts’ bounty was consumed in an obscure however critically important set of experiments that made sure lunar samples were safe to keep here in the world.

Researchers were quite sure that there weren’t any possibly hazardous bacteria residing on the moon, however they could not be definitely sure. And while the retrieval of moon rocks was an extraordinary present to science, it might have been rather a curse in the world if those rocks had actually ended up being a threat to terrestrial life. So as part of the company’s preparations for the objective, NASA needed to create a program of tests.

” We needed to show that we weren’t going to pollute not just humans, however we weren’t going to pollute fish and birds and animals and plants and you call it,” Charles Berry, who supervised of medical operations throughout Apollo, stated in a 1999 narrative history “Any of the Earth’s biosphere, we needed to show we weren’t going to impact it. So we needed to establish an incredible program that was brought off actually for 3 flights’ worth. A great deal of difficulty.”

Related: Apollo 11 at 50: A Total Guide to the Historical Moon Landing

The astronauts themselves were mixed into quarantine after their go back to Earth, where they stayed separated from all however 20 human beings for 3 weeks, from the minute Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left the moon. A collection of mice likewise shot to popularity while the astronauts remained in quarantine: They were injected with lunar product and were kept track of simply as carefully as the team, who likewise participated in the watch.

” They constantly would like to know how the rodents were doing,” Judith Hayes, chief of NASA’s Biomedical Research study and Environmental Sciences Department, who utilized to operate in the structure that as soon as housed the quarantine center and who has actually talked with researchers who accompanied the astronauts throughout that time, informed Space.com. “If the rodents succeeded, then they would likely be launched on time, if the rodents weren’t well, they would likely be taken a look at far more thoroughly and longer.”

However validating human beings and mice would make it through an opportunity lunar encounter wasn’t enough, and keeping all other terrestrial life safe was a little bit more complex than looking for coughs or rashes. One NASA file describes attempting to develop treatments as browsing a “sea of lack of knowledge” and stressed that the authors could not forecast just how much moon rock the tests they laid out would take in.

A lab technician studies a Japanese quail that was exposed to lunar samples collected by the Apollo 11 mission.

A laboratory service technician research studies a Japanese quail that was exposed to lunar samples gathered by the Apollo 11 objective.

Credit: NASA

Initially, NASA picked the types it would utilize. In addition to the mice, the company and its partners likewise chose other representative types: Japanese quail to represent birds, a number of nondescript fish, brown shrimp and oysters for shellfish, German cockroaches and houseflies for creepy-crawlies, and more. (Regretfully, while we discovered pictures of the mice, birds and plants, the moon rock-eating roaches avoided us.)

Then, the company used its valuable cache of 49 pounds. (22 kgs) of freshly provided lunar product. Researchers ground whatever to dust, half of which they baked to sanitize and half of which they left as it was. The prescription differed a little with animal type: mice and quail got the lunar sample as an injection, bugs had actually the sample blended into their food and water animals had the moon dust contributed to the water they resided in.

NASA saw the menagerie for a month in case anything appeared to experience the lunar direct exposure. The German cockroaches that were fed moon dust– real to the bugs’ track record– flourished in spite of the unique diet plan. And all the animals succeeded, with one glaring exception: Whether in lunar water or not, a lot of the oysters passed away, which the researchers chalked up to having actually checked animals throughout their breeding season.

” The outcomes of these tests offered no info that would suggest that the lunar samples returned by the Apollo 11 objective consisted of reproducing representatives dangerous to life in the world,” concluded the authors of a paper stating the tests on “lower animals” released in the journal Science a year after Apollo 11.

In addition to screening animals, NASA likewise dealt with the U.S. Department of Farming (USDA) to evaluate plants for any unfavorable responses to lunar product, simply in case. (As a USDA staff member newsletter released in August 1969 stated, “What will a little moon dust do to your tomato plants? Most likely absolutely nothing.”) These experiments consisted of growing seeds in lunar soil and checked not simply tomatoes, however likewise tobacco, cabbage, onion and fern. A few of these plants really grew much better in the regolith than in the sand researchers utilized as a contrast.

Comparable experiments were carried out after Apollo 12 and 14 also and checked an overall of 15 various animal types, according to a NASA file While the animal and plant tests were continuous, NASA likewise cultured samples on petri meals to look for any bacteria that grew.

” They didn’t discover any microbial development on the lunar samples, and they didn’t have any bacteria that they a minimum of at first credited to any extraterrestrial source or lunar source. And the team didn’t have any indications of a contagious illness, and all the rodents endured the examinations, so everyone succeeded,” Hayes stated.

Lastly, NASA was positive that lunar regolith was safe. After Apollo 14, in 1971, the company stopped checking animals and ended the stringent quarantine treatments for astronauts returning from the moon. It likewise stopped quarantining laboratory professionals dealing with lunar samples who may have been available in contact with the moon rocks.

NASA had great factor to remove the animal tests, obviously. “Planetary researchers were dissatisfied about the quantity of product which they considered as squandered on these experiments and the degree to which quarantine lessened the concentrate on planetary research study,” according to a NASA report

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @meghanbartels Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook