As the first humans set foot on the lunar surface in 1969, they left behind more than just footprints. The Apollo missions, which ran from 1969 to 1972, saw a total of twelve astronauts walk on the Moon and leave behind a variety of objects (aka trash). But have you ever wondered what was left on the Moon by astronauts and why?
List Of What Was Left On The Moon By Astronauts
From American flags and lunar plaques, to science experiments and discarded equipment, astronaut trash has remained on the lunar surface for years. Here are some of the most interesting and significant things left on the Moon by astronauts over the years.
- American Flags: Six American flags were planted on the Moon by astronauts during the Apollo missions. Over the years the Sun has bleached these flags bright white.
- Lunar Plaques: Inscribed metal plates that were left on the Moon by the astronauts, which bear messages such as “Here Men From The Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon The Moon, July 1969 A.D. We Came In Peace For All Mankind.”
- Retroreflectors: Three corner-cube retroreflectors were left on the Moon by the Apollo missions, which are used for laser ranging experiments.
- Science Experiments: The Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) was left on the Moon by the astronauts, which included experiments such as a seismometer to measure moonquakes and a heat flow experiment to measure heat coming from the Moon’s interior.
- Tools & Equipment: Sample collection bags, drills, and other tools and equipment were used by the astronauts and left on the Moon.
- Vehicles: Lunar modules and lunar rovers were left on the Moon after they were no longer needed by the astronauts.
- Personal Items: Medallions, photos, and commemorative items were left on the Moon by the astronauts as a way to remember their historical journey.
- Astronaut Poop: What was left on the Moon also includes an estimated 96 bags of human waste generated by the astronauts during the Apollo missions. The waste, a mix of feces and urine, was stored in containers on the lunar module and then tossed before returning to Earth. The amount of human waste left on the Moon is considered minimal and not harmful to the lunar environment. But as moon missions resume, the amount of astronaut poop on the moon will increase.
These are just the known objects left on the Moon, but as the NASA missions were very complex, it’s likely there are other items left behind. In other words, we don’t know exactly what was left on the Moon.
What Was Left On The Moon By Astronauts And Why
Before returning to Earth, the Apollo mission astronauts created a “toss zone” and threw out as mush as possible. This done for practical reasons, such as space, weight and safety limitations, but it also served a scientific purpose in providing knowledge about the impact of space on materials.
- Limited Space: The lunar modules and the command module, which were used to transport the astronauts from the lunar surface to orbit and back to Earth, had limited space for storage. The astronauts only had a certain amount of room to bring samples, experiments and equipment back to Earth. By creating a “toss zone” and leaving unnecessary items behind on the Moon, they were able to make more room for the items that were considered more valuable, like rock samples.
- Weight Restrictions: The lunar module and command module also had weight restrictions. The spacecraft needed to be light enough to take off from the Moon and land back on Earth.
- Scientific Value: Leaving certain items behind on the Moon creates an opportunity to study the effects of long-term lunar environment exposure.
- Safety: By leaving unnecessary items behind on the Moon, the astronauts were able to reduce the weight of the spacecraft, making it easier and safer to return to Earth.
What Has Been Left On The Moon, Will Stay On The Moon… Forever
It’s worth noting that these objects will remain on the moon for millions of years and never breakdown. The moon has no atmosphere to erode them, and no life to disturb them. Every item that astronauts have left on the moon will stay on the moon forever.
Who Will Clean Up NASA’s Moon Trash?
Trash. It’s everywhere. From your front yard, to remote deserted islands and Antartica, humans have left trash all over the world. And humanity’s litter isn’t just limited to Earth. There’s lots of trash on the Moon too! Hopefully someone will clean it all up on a future Moon mission.