NASA Engineer & Home Health Nurse Bond Over Historic Event

By AccentCare

John Stonesifer and Dereka McDanielsA simple blood pressure device led to a fascinating conversation between a Houston area AccentCare Home Health nurse and her patient, John Stonesifer. Dereka McDaniels, LVN, was using a handheld wrist blood pressure device on Mr. Stonesifer when the former NASA Apollo 11 engineer became intrigued by it. He immediately asked if he could buy one! Dereka didn’t know why her patient would want to buy a blood pressure device. So, she asked him. “Well, to take it apart,” said John, “and to figure it out, of course!” At that point, she knew it was about to get interesting and he had a story to tell. 

Dereka had noticed his home was filled with pictures of him with presidents and astronauts like Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. So, she asked him what he did for a living before retiring. He proceeded to tell her how he worked with NASA, getting man into space, and eventually getting man on the Moon. He said, “Surprisingly, it was over 50 years ago, and many young people haven’t even heard of Apollo 11.” John’s responsibility was safely recovering astronauts after water landings.  

John began with the Mercury program, then moved through Gemini to the Apollo missions. When they were ready to go to the moon, John said they used a Saturn V rocket booster that was 30 stories high. Way up on the top was the small Apollo 11 space capsule where the men sat. John developed all the procedures and equipment to provide safety for the possibility of bringing some unknown pathogens back to the Earth. “We didn’t know what was up on the Moon. One of the chief scientists told me, ‘Stoney, we just don’t know, but it could be catastrophic.’” 

Mobile Quarantine unit NASA
NASA Apollo 11 Moon Mobile Quarantine Unit John Stonesifer  (7)
NASA Apollo 11 Moon Mobile Quarantine Unit John Stonesifer  (9)
NASA Apollo 11 Moon Mobile Quarantine Unit John Stonesifer  (8)
NASA Apollo 11 Moon Mobile Quarantine Unit John Stonesifer  (4)
NASA Apollo 11 Moon Mobile Quarantine Unit John Stonesifer  (5)




For John, safely isolating the astronauts and the equipment after the moon trip was a major priority. So, the Apollo 11 mobile quarantine unit (MQU) was born. They built it from an Airstream trailer, and several were made. Once on board the ship in the ocean after a water landing, the astronauts would immediately go into the MQU for 21 days. John mentioned that when Apollo 11 landed, if safety procedures were broken before the astronauts got to the MQU, everyone on the ship had to quarantine with them. They would have to stay at sea for 21 days. John trained the team with a multitude of procedures and safety steps, but they were a little worried when they found out the President was coming. Secret Service had a question: what if the quarantine procedures were broken while Nixon was on board the ship? John said, “If it was broken we had a code. The helicopter team picking up the astronauts would let me know if they saw any procedures broken. If any were broken, I would salute the Secret Service man before the astronauts landed on the ship, he would whisk the President immediately up to his waiting helicopter on the flight deck, and off they’d go, to avoid having Nixon stay onboard.” 

Thankfully, no procedures were broken, John said. However, the astronauts had to remain in the MQU for 21 days. Once the astronauts were inside, the famous picture of the astronauts looking out the window of the MQU was taken with President Nixon outside the window. The unit was then flown back to Houston. Once there, the three men went through medical examinations and tests in the lunar receiving lab. The moon rocks and all the equipment in the space capsule were decontaminated and put in boxes or bags and flown to the lab, too. All of John’s instructions and procedures went well. NASA performed these procedures on Apollo 12, but it was not needed on the Apollo 13 mission because the crew didn’t make it to the moon. By the Apollo 14 mission, NASA scientists had discovered there were no harmful contaminants on the Moon and the safety protocols weren’t needed anymore. 

With the recent eclipse, a trip back to the Moon and maybe Mars on the horizon, John is fascinated with all the latest space news. He still gets the occasional call from the Johnson Space Center. When the OSIRIS-Rex mission brought back samples from the Bennu asteroid after 7 years in deep space, the team in charge called asking for his thoughts on containment procedures once the capsule landed on Earth. He shared his thoughts, then they talked for a little bit and told him what they were doing. He agreed with their safety protocols. “They were right on target,” he said. 

The ever curious 94-year-old did eventually buy the blood pressure machine Dereka used on him and he did figure it out. His daughter says he’s bought several over the years and always takes them apart and tests them against each other to see which one is the most accurate. He didn’t think the wrist handheld one Dereka used was as accurate as the arm cuff one. He found out it was, saying, “These machines have come a long way! Now I’ll have to find out what Johnson Space Center uses on the astronauts during missions!” 

As Dereka heard all his NASA stories, she was proud to be part of his recovery effort. In fact, she felt a sort of connection to John through it. The detailed preparations, being ready for different situations, and a deep understanding of a person’s role in the system all lead to a high-quality outcome for the whole team. Maybe NASA and AccentCare had a lot in common after all – all procedures were carried out according to his care plan. Now that he’s on the mend, Dereka says she was excited to bond over a blood pressure device with an Apollo 11 NASA engineer. 


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