Other than the astronauts themselves a NASA photographer accidentally became the first person to touch moon dust while the Apollo 11 astronauts waiting in quarantine after returning home.
In case they had brought home any “moon bugs”, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were quickly whisked away into quarantine where they spent the following three weeks being evaluated after they splashed back down on Earth on July 24, 1969. NASA staffers began decontaminating and sorting the astronauts’ equipment and the samples that they’d collected while the astronauts were in quarantine.
Capturing The Lunar Environment.
Capturing both each other and their surrounding lunar environment, Aldrin and Armstrong took photos using different types of cameras and film whilst on the moon. However, Armstrong dropped one of the film magazines, a chamber that holds film, as the astronauts were heading back to climb the ladder back into the lunar module at the end of their extravehicular activity. But, he picked it up,packed it into a canister and stored it with the rest of the film. With the magazine’s surface dusted with lunar soil, Aldrin left a handwritten note on the canister containing the dropped magazine to inform whoever would handle it.
But Aldrin’s note wasn’t heeded, unfortunately, as NASA photographer Terry Slezak was unwrapping the film canisters. In an interview with NASA Slezak recalled that he and his colleagues began unpacking the film, which was double-bagged in plastic containers, from “behind a biological barrier.” Slezak recalled in the interview that: “in there was a note from Buzz Aldrin saying that this was the magazine that Neil had dropped on the surface, but that this was the most important magazine” as Slezak opened the canister with the dropped magazine.
“When I pulled it out it was all covered in this black material — looked like lampblack, almost — it was really dark black with little bright speckly things, which turned out to be little bits of glass from the lunar surface. So everybody said, ‘What is that?’ I said, ‘It’s Moon dust. That’s the only place it’s been.’ So they had to shoot a picture of me with the Moon dust on my hand,” Slezak said.
NASA scientists still weren’t sure if the astronauts could have brought back moon bugs and Slezak’s hands were covered in black lunar soil. So, Slezak had to go through an intense decontamination process as well as having to be photographed with the moon dust on his hands.
As Slezak explained, “according to protocol, the other people in the room had to leave and I had to strip off my clothing and clean off all of the work surfaces with Clorox bleach, then go to the showers. I didn’t really think too much about it at the time. The only thing I was concerned with was this dust, which is so abrasive, it’s like carborundum (silicon carbide), and I was thinking, ‘If this stuff has gotten into the magazine, the film is going to be all scratched.’ So that’s really what I was worried about.”
Luckily, the moon dust didn’t make Slezak sick, and the NASA photographer will forever be one of the first people to ever touch moon dust.
Words by Elijah (Content Marketer) via Space.