Friday, May 06, 2011

Moon Microbes - Weren't

There was a nagging mystery surrounding the Apollo 12 mission. One that has take nearly 40 years to unravel. From the Yahoo News article sent in by Tim Sayell:
  • On Nov. 19, 1969, Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean made a precision landing on the lunar surface in (in the area called) the Ocean of Storms. Their touchdown point was a mere 535 feet from the Surveyor 3 lander -- and an easy stroll to the hardware that had soft-landed on the lunar terrain years before, on April 20, 1967
Their reason for visiting the probe? To retrieve and return to Earth the camera that was installed on the craft. It was packed in a sterile container and was not removed until it arrived at NASA's clean room. Examining the camera, NASA scientists found a small colony of common bacteria -- Streptococcus Mitis. Now we are not talking about a huge amount but at most 100 of the microbes, which appeared to have survived launch, the harsh vacuum of space, three years of exposure to the moon's radiation environment, the lunar deep-freeze at an average temperature of minus 253 degrees Celsius, not to mention no access to nutrients, water or an energy source.

Though scientists agree that this claim was ridiculous, the press and later the internet continued to champion the claim that microbes had survived. The truth however was far less romantic. Even though the clean room examiners claimed no contamination, examination of procedures and interviews proved different.

From the article:
  • The research team writes of the way the Surveyor 3 camera team studied the equipment here on Earth. Or put more delicately, "The general scene does not lend a lot of confidence in the proposition. For example, (after studying documents and 16mm film of the period researchers found that) participants studying the camera were found to be wearing short-sleeve scrubs, thus arms were exposed. Also, the scrub shirt tails were higher than the flow bench level … and would act as a bellows for particulates from inside the shirt..... All in all, the likelihood that contamination occurred during sampling of the Surveyor 3 camera was shown to be very real.
Read the complete article here

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