Regarding the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, in Sunburst and Luminary Don Eyles wrote in Debriefing (p.162 of 2019 edition):

...all this in case they had, against expectation, brought home some otherworldly microbe or other lunacy. For the doomsday case bulldozers were standing by to bury the laboratory under a mound of dirt, astronauts, staff and all.

I haven't found any other reference to this, and it seems to be contradicted by SP-368 Biomedical Results of Apollo, where the second point under "Quarantine Assumptions and Guidelines" is:

  1. The preservation of human life should take precedence over the maintenance of quarantine.

followed by the explanation:

Together, guidelines 1 and 2 provided the basis for the Lunar Quarantine Program; that is, although the probability that life existed on the moon was extremely low, the risk was sufficiently high that a quarantine program was justified. However, this risk was not considered great enough to permit an otherwise avoidable injury and/or loss of human life just to maintain the integrity of the program.

So is Eyles mistaken and there were no doomsday 'dozers (perhaps the idea was earlier floated?), or were situations envisaged where life wasn't sacrosanct (or might already have been lost)?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Great question! Because it never happened, I never considered what NASA would have actually done had there been moon bugs found... My gut feeling is that even NASA didn't really have such plans by the time they ran the experiment and just needed to appear like they were taking the threat seriously. But that's not clear at all. Hence a great question! $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2021 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ I suspect scientists didn't feel much need for contingencies, because the possibility of there being life on the moon is based mostly in fantasy. "Oh, you're worried about catching something on the moon? How... interesting. OK, OK, you can have a quarantine." $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2021 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ We know that now... however at the time there was no way to know for sure. Aside from natural effects, you had to consider the artificial: an interstellar society that wants to avoid other societies also going interstellar, so they seed deadly viruses on your inner worlds. $\endgroup$ Commented May 25, 2021 at 0:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Harper-ReinstateMonica - so Clarke's "The Sentinel", only equipped with a very pointy stick. $\endgroup$ Commented May 25, 2021 at 0:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Harper-ReinstateMonica The idea of interstellar society is also based in fantasy, both now, and at the time. The distances between stars are too far. The physics just don't permit it. $\endgroup$ Commented May 25, 2021 at 14:03

1 Answer 1


It's mentioned in the R. Bryan Erb Oral History on the Johnson Space Center oral histories page. Erb was manager of the LRL from 1969-1970.

ERB : You know, you fantasize about some of these scenarios, too. I thought supposing we do find something really deadly. What is the action? And it went through our minds that, well, you might, in fact, have to sacrifice everybody in the laboratory and bulldoze it under 100 feet of dirt. This sort of thing goes through your mind, if you really did have something that was seriously pathogenic. But fortunately, at least for the areas we visited, there was never anything of any serious hazard whatsoever.

Also mentioned in the official project history, but using the aforementioned interview as a reference.

There were a few breaks within the biological barrier in the early missions that led to a few staff members going into the quarantine with the astronauts, but all in all there were no serious problems. While lab managers had thought out extreme solutions in case there had been any serious danger from the lunar material, the “doomsday” predictions proved not to be accurate and any dramatic action, such as burying the laboratory under a mountain of dirt and sacrificing the lives of those still inside, ended up not being necessary.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You beat me to it, I got the book and the section OP mentioned cites the "Lunar Receiving Laboratory Project History" tracked down the oral history and found the same section, was about to post my answer. $\endgroup$
    – Mark Omo
    Commented May 24, 2021 at 1:00
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ FWIW, I went to ntrs and searched for "lunar receiving laboratory" and the project history came up. That sent me to the oral history. $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2021 at 1:09
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ No doubt true, although the whole thing has an air of unreality about it. Why burry the lunar receiving laboratory? I mean can't lunar microbes live and spread in dirt? Wouldn't that just make matters worse? $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Commented May 24, 2021 at 10:22
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Slarty I suspect that this option was considered means that they didn't seriously think the doomsday options had any chance of being needed. If they did the work would either have been done in the ocean far from shore, or the middle of a desert weapons testing site where in extremis a small nuke could have converted the entire facility to plasma. $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2021 at 15:12
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Peter-ReinstateMonica IIRC using a nuke on the Andromeda Strain was the last thing you'd want to do. "There'll be a thousand mutagens, each killing in a different way. We'll never be rid of it." $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2021 at 18:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.