The Surveyor 3 camera was easy pickings and brought back to Earth under sterile conditions by the Apollo 12 crew. When scientists analyzed the parts in a clean room, they found evidence of microorganisms inside the camera.The astrobiological upshot as deduced from the unplanned experiment was that 50 to 100 of the microbes 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.
On Nov. 19, 1969, Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean made a precision landing on the lunar surface in Oceanus Procellarum, Latin for the Ocean of Storms. Their touchdown point was a mere 535 feet (163 meters) 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.
For example, 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, reports co-author Allton.
Other contamination control issues were flagged by the researchers.
In simple microbiology 101 speak, "a close personal relationship with the subject ... is not necessarily a good thing," the research team explains.
All in all, the likelihood that contamination occurred during sampling of the Surveyor 3 camera was shown to be very real.