from the Huntsville Times 8/11/07....
al.com: Everything Alabama
Apollo 12 trailer resurfaces at a fish farm?
Saturday, August 11, 2007
By JOHN PECK
Times Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
'It's like finding a Rembrandt in a yard sale'
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center has landed a prize catch at a west Alabama fish farm.
Museum officials found a long-lost Airstream trailer that was used to quarantine Apollo 12 astronauts returning from the moon in November 1969.
The trailer has logged a circuitous route since being sold by NASA as surplus and has spent the last two decades at an aquatic research farm in Marion in Perry County.
"What kind of find is it? It's like finding a Rembrandt in a yard sale. There aren't going to be any more of these," said Al Whitaker, Space Center spokesman. Officials plan to retrieve the artifact and display it in the new Saturn V building.
Space Center officials announced the find Friday in a briefing to the City Council on the new Davidson Saturn V Center to open in January.
The Mobile Quarantine Facility essentially sat in obscurity until an observant director recognized the resemblance.
Paul Johnson, program supervisor for the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center in Marion, said he suspected that the modified Airstream was a NASA original from its unusual design.
Johnson recalled seeing an identical Apollo 11 quarantine trailer while visiting the Space Center years ago. The Smithsonian Institution recalled the Apollo 11 trailer from the space museum in 2002.
"I notified the Space Center to see if they'd be interested in a mobile quarantine center that was used by the astronauts, but I never heard anything. I guess they thought I was some kind of quack," Johnson said Friday by phone.
Whitaker said the initial offer wasn't taken seriously because the story didn't seem to check out. "We did a cursory check here, and the records we came across indicated all four were all accounted for."
The Apollo 11 quarantine trailer was at the Smithsonian, and the Apollo 14 unit was at a museum of the USS Hornet, a recovery ship for Apollo capsule splashdowns. Whitaker said records indicated that a forest fire burned one that belonged to the U.S. Forest Service in Georgia. The other one was transferred to Mississippi and left to deteriorate, he said.
Johnson said a museum official called him earlier this year to request photos and permission to check out the trailer. "He said the curator had dismissed it and that they wanted to follow up on it," Johnson said. "I sent some pictures I had sent with the original e-mail, and they were down here the next week."
Whitaker, one of three museum officials who made the trek to Marion, said the team couldn't believe what it found. "We made a day trip out of it, and by God, there it was, the Apollo 12 mobile quarantine unit."
Records on its ownership were not immediately available. Johnson said NASA declared the units surplus after the Apollo era, transferring them to government agencies. The Apollo 11 unit was kept because of the historical significance of being the first moon landing.
The Apollo 12 quarantine trailer was transferred to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and it once quarantined researchers from Africa exposed to the Ebola virus, Whitaker said. It sat in storage for years and was eventually transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Johnson said the trailer was moved to Marion in 1984 as living quarters for researchers at the Southeastern Fish Culture Laboratory. The lab closed in 1995, but the trailer and buildings remained.
Whitaker said the Airstream is in immaculate shape and still has some of the original components such as the air purification equipment, an Onan generator and the wiring harness for the communication link between the quarantined astronauts and the outside world.
Whitaker remains baffled over records suggesting that the Apollo 12 quarantine trailer had been destroyed. "One did go to Georgia and was destroyed by fire. They either delivered the wrong trailer, or there was a mix-up in the paperwork," he said.
The Apollo 12 crew members were Alan Bean, Pete Conrad and Richard Gordon. NASA decided to isolate returning moon astronauts for up to 21 days after their return as a safeguard against the spread of any lunar pathogen. No moon germs were found, and the quarantine process was abandoned after the first three moon landings.