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The Airstream™ RV, NASA and JFK

Updated on March 18, 2016

American RV

Undoubtedly, at some point in your travels, you’ve seen an Airstream™. Let’s face it. They are hard to miss. The distinct, silver gleaming futuristic capsule cruising down the highways and byways of the countryside, as well as interstate highways, is quite a site to behold. It has earned quite a following and an honored place in the pantheon of great recreational vehicles. In fact, the Airstream ™ has played a pivotal role in America's space program. That’s right, you read it correctly, the space program. In its own right, the Airstream™ has quite a history starting in 1929 when Wally Byam built the first Airstream™. Since then, the Airstream™ has literally grown up with America. The Airstream™ has not only survived, it has, in fact thrived. The Airstream™ RV has stayed relevant and continued to blossom during the depression, WWII, Korean Conflict, Vietnam War and the space program. Yep. That’s right. When you think NASA, you think Airstream™ . After all, if you need to hitch a ride to a launchpad, why wouldn’t you use an Airstream™ RV to get you there? It turns out that the Airstream™ played an important role in the space program since the 1960’s. Furthermore, the Airstream™ has not only served its country with distinction, it has earned a place in the hearts of astronauts everywhere as well as those who love to have their head in the clouds.


RV Mission: Mission Quarantine Facility

Think of yourself coming home to from a very long trip. Let's say, you were out of the country for an extended period. Better yet, let's say you were out of the Earth's atmosphere. All you want to do is come back to a nice home cooked meal. Even though your trip was quite long and kept you busy, you realize that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Alas, even though you're on your home planet, you're unable to spend Thanksgiving at home. Instead, you get to spend it quarantined inside of an Airstream™ with four other people. You don't have to imagine. It actually happened to the crew of Apollo 11.

The year was 1969. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins splashed down safely approximately 812 nautical miles southeast of Hawaii and only 12 nautical miles away from the USS Hornet, the Navy’s ship assigned to pluck the astronauts out of the Pacific and transport them safely back to land.

Needless to say, since this was the first time anyone had walked on the moon, there was a concern within NASA that the prudent thing to do would be to quarantine the astronauts for a period of time. In fact, the crew from Apollo 11 spent Thanksgiving inside of the MQF. This precaution was put in place to make sure none of the astronauts brought back any of those pesky lunar viruses/diseases, which of course don’t exist. The Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) aboard the USS Hornet, manufactured by Airstream™ , was used for Apollo 11,12,13 and 14. Each MQF could hold 3 astronauts, a doctor, and one assistant and included room for sleeping.

MQFs were no longer used after Apollo 14 after scientists determined that there was no need to quarantine astronauts coming back from space.

Looking through the lens of history where hindsight is 20/20, we may tend to easily dismiss the degree of concern there was at the time related to the astronauts coming back from the moon. We can safely say that in an era long before the Internet and Social media, the Airstream™ put the collective conscience of an anxious nation at ease simply by "hosting" astronauts in its safe confines for a slightly extended stay.

Apollo 11 Crew and President Nixon

Mission Quarantine Facility Data

Length of Quarantine
Apollo 11
21 days
Apollo 12
14 days
Apollo 13
Not quarantined
Apollo 14
21 days

Airstream™ and the Space Shuttle

When the space program went from the Apollo program in the 1960’s to the space shuttle program, it was the Airstream™ that took the astronauts along for the ride.

Fast forward to the 1984. Ronald Reagan was in the White House. NASA’s shuttle program is in full swing and Airstream™ is there with a customized vehicle designed to transport astronauts to the launch pad. They called it the Astrovan. The Astrovan is an Airstream™ . Specifically, according to NASA , as of 1984…” the ground transportation role has been undertaken by a 1983 Airstream™ Excella 280 motorhome dubbed the “Astrovan.” The Astrovan carries the astronauts for the 20-minute, nine-mile ride from the Operations and Checkout Building to Launch Pad 39 at the NASA Kennedy Space Center. NASA further indicates “Over the last three decades this routine became so familiar to astronauts, both old and new, that all attempts over the intervening years to replace the venerable Airstream™ motorhome with an updated model have been soundly rebuffed. As a consequence the vehicle has managed to clock up 26,754 miles (thanks to NASA for providing the latest odometer reading). This is quite an achievement for an RV that was used solely to transport astronauts to and from the launch pad though this figure is a drop in the ocean when compared to the shuttle mission total of 542,398,878 miles flown!

The venerable favorite known as the Astrovan has gained a place in the hearts of astronauts. In fact, all efforts to upgrade to a newer model have been rebuffed in deference to the tradition that the current model holds. According to Wikipedia, the driver of the astronauts indicated "We were staged to get a new one," King said, and added that word came that the rookie astronauts wanted to keep the vehicle that was a tradition of the astronauts who traveled those nine miles to the pad before them” Coming in at 28 ft. 9 inches, the revered vehicle the astronauts are ferried in is not only functional, it is also a part of Americana.

Airstreams and The Space Shuttle

The Kennedy Connection

While it is true that President Kennedy was not an astronaut, he was the one who initially challenged America to reach the moon before the end of the 60's. Therefore, we would be remiss if we did not at least give President Kennedy a shout out. Were it not for him dropping the proverbial gauntlet of the aforementioned challenge, history perhaps would be quite different. He also has a connection with the Airstream since he used an Airstream as an office while he visited White Sands Missile range in New Mexico. June 5th, 1963, just over 5 months before his assassination was when the Airstream doubled as the president's office while at White Sands. The site itself was where the first time an atomic bomb was actually tested.


We’ve seen the role that the Airstream™ has played in the Space program, the Presidency and the dawn of the Atomic Age. These are notable and laudable accomplishments to say the least. While it is not mentioned here, industrial designers and architects have praised the Airstream™ since its inception. It should also be pointed out that the most noteworthy achievement of the Airstream™ is its ability to serve as a shining example of American’s love for the open road. The amount of memories created by countless families and individuals using the Airstream™ to get away or as a permanent residence is mind blowing. Whether it is with astronauts on the colonized moon surface or serving as a presidential office in some top secret location, there is no doubt that the Airstream™ in one form or another, will continue to boldly go wherever the road may lead it whether it be on the road or in space. No matter where it goes, we'll be along for the ride.


Summary (continued)

This little known legacy continues to inspire current and future generations. Remember the next time you see an Airstream™ with its shimmering silver cylindrical torso travailing across the land, keep in mind that it has relatives that have transported and housed humans who have boldly gone where few have gone before.


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    • maukajam profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      I appreciate the feedback Robert. I didn't know The Apollo 11 MQF is on display in Dulles. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      2 years ago

      A very good Hub. The MQF the Apollo 11 astronauts used is now on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles IAP, VA.


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