This past weekend I had the chance to tour the Kennedy Space Center and learn about Airstream’s Mobile Quarantine Facility. I have such fond memories of watching man land on the moon! It was July 20, 1969, and I vividly remember sitting in the living room of our three-bedroom rental house. We were watching this historic event on a black-and-white TV sitting on a metal roller frame. What an entertainment center!
“One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” I still get goosebumps and even more so when I heard it “live” again at the Kennedy Space Center. Other call-outs such as “The Eagle has landed,” Tranquility Base, and of course Nixon on the phone: “Hello, Neil and Buzz. I’m talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House. This certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made from the White House”—got the same goosebump reaction.
Airstream and NASA’s space program
What really intrigued me years later was Airstream’s involvement in the space program. I loved the photo of the three astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, looking out the window of an Airstream Trailer at President Nixon on the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. There was a 1983 Airstream Excella at the Kennedy Space Center that was named the “Astrovan.” It was used to shuttle the astronauts to the rocket from 1983-2011. (These are my photos.)
What was not there, though, was the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF). This facility was commissioned for quarantine for the astronauts in case of bacteria or other pathogens from the moon.
The government structured a law called the Extra-Terrestrial Exposure Law, which was a set of regulations designed by NASA just prior to the launch to set guidelines for quarantine. The astronauts walked the 30 feet from the recovered Lunar Module to the MQF, which was stationary on the USS Hornet in CA, and then were transported to Houston on a C-133 Cargomaster.
What was the story behind the Mobile Quarantine Facility?
According to Airstream, as NASA prepared to send a man to the moon, they grew fearful that bacteria and pathogens from the moon could cause a widespread disease epidemic. Sound familiar?
NASA contracted with a company called Melpar, who subcontracted Airstream to build the Mobile Quarantine Facility. The design of an Airstream trailer was very similar to the metal and rivet design of other aircraft. This was not your typical Airstream trailer sitting on the dealer lot. The 35-foot trailer was customized with living quarters, a medical examination table, and seats with seat belts designed to secure the astronauts when being transported. Four of these MQFs were built for the Apollo 11, 12, 13, and 14. Not only were the three astronauts quarantined, but also Flight Surgeon Dr. William Carpentier and Recovery Engineer John Hirasaki. They quarantined for 21 days.
Where are the Mobile Quarantine Facilities now?
The Mobile Quarantine Facility used for the Apollo 11 mission is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air And Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. The Apollo 12 MQF is at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. Due to the aborted mission of Apollo 13, that MQF was sent back to the USDA and has not been found since. The MQF for Apollo 14 is on display at the USS Hornet Sea Air & Space Museum (a Smithsonian Affiliate) in California.
Where were you during the moon landing?
This past week I rummaged through half a dozen slide carousels from my parents’ house trying to find the pictures we took of the man on the moon. I remember seeing them several years back. For the life of me, I cannot find the photos!
Years later, I got to witness one of the shuttle launches in the middle of the night sitting out on the causeway. It was spectacular!
Where were you when they landed on the moon? Do you have photos of it? Have any ideas as to where MQF #3 might be? Do you know anyone that worked at Airstream or NASA during this time? My father-in-law worked for IBM on several Apollo projects. However, it was much earlier than Apollo 13 and he claims he is sworn to secrecy. I doubt that—he just likes to talk more about his Hudsons!
Tell us your stories of the Apollo lunar launches!