Here's a list of all the trash humans have left on the surface of the moon
In an age of environmental concerns and green anxieties, we're often told about the tremendous amount of trash littering the surface of our blue planet. Over the years, human beings have been responsible for producing an astonishing amount of non-biodegradable waste, which has polluted the biosphere. Even now, there are several tonnes worth of plastic items dumped into landfill or left to float on the surface of the sea, killing native species and producing harmful toxins.
This disregard and carelessness is depressing, but what's even more depressing is that humans aren't just content with polluting their own world. We're so bad at tidying up after ourselves that we're now beginning to leave trash out in outer space as well. You might not know this, but it turns out that NASA, for all their technical innovations, really are a bunch of litterbugs, and they've left a whole lot of rubbish on the surface of the moon.
Okay, so the one thing left on the moon that everyone thinks of when it comes to the subject of man-made objects on the moon is the iconic American flag planted by the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969. It's an image that's as inspiring as it is prosaic: the thought of the red, white and blue marking the site of the most important expedition in human history, the only colour in a silent landscape of grey dust and black skies. But other than this patriotic emblem, a further 400,000 pounds of man-made material has been left by astronauts in the Sea of Tranquility.
The reasons why are many and varied. Often, recovering the articles leftover on the surface is too much of a time-consuming venture, and one of the main objectives of the moon landings was for astronauts to recover soil samples, ore and rocks to take back to NASA for scientific study. All in all, NASA astronauts travelling to and from the moon took home approximately 842lbs of material home with them. However, because the tiny lunar module needed every bit of propulsion it could manage in order to break free of the moon's orbit, it could only carry so much weight.
Thus, the astronauts elected to swap their unwanted waste and discarded gear in exchange for valuable moon rocks. This meant that, among other things, there are now around 96 bags of human excrement dumped on the face of the moon, like poop-bags at a dog-walker's favourite public park. Wow; aren't you glad I just told you that? I already knew that there were footprints on the moon and that Neil Armstrong was the first guy to set foot on the moon, but I wonder which poor sap will be the first person to tread in crap on the moon? That'll be one for the history books.
Other trash left on the moon includes (deep breath) four other American flags, two golf balls, 12 pairs of boots, a number of TV cameras, film magazines, several gold-plated Hasselbad cameras, improvised javelins hammers used to test gravity, tongs, rakes, shovels and other tools used in the lunar sample extraction, insulating blankets used to keep astronauts warm, dirty wet wipes, empty packages of space food, as well as a number of lunar buggies and rovers that were also too heavy to take home.
There's also the debris from failed missions to take into consideration: all those rockets and modules which crashed on the moon and were left there. Crashes of this nature still occur even today; in 2012, two probes that had spent a year orbiting the moon for NASA's GRAIL mission crashed onto the moon. They were destroyed thanks to the impact of their fall and communications to Earth were instantly severed.
But there is also a number of more touching objects left on the moon, memorials to those humans deemed worthy of a space among the stars, far away from the strife and noise of Earthbound concerns. A small aluminium sculpture of an astronaut, no more than three inches tall, was brought to the moon by astronauts on the Apollo 15 mission, to commemorate all those cosmonauts who tragically lost their lives in the space race.
Also left behind by the Apollo 11 astronauts was an aluminium disk bearing goodwill messages from 73 world leaders and a plaque. The inscription on the plaque reads: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind." Hiding somewhere within a lunar crater and resting, untouched by any breeze, is a treasured family photograph, wrapped in a cellophane sheet. The picture is of the family of astronaut Charles Duke, who went on the Apollo 16 mission, and shows Duke with his wife Dorothy and young sons Charles and Thomas. There is also a feather plucked from an Air Force falcon named Baggin, the official mascot of NASA for many years.
But perhaps the most touching piece of litter on the moon is the tribute to the geologist, Eugene Shoemaker, who had his ashes taken to the moon encased in a polycarbonate, aluminium sleeve. Shoemaker dreamed of going to the moon in his lifetime, but after his tragic death (a fatal traffic collision), his earthly remains were sequestered in an unearthly resting place. On the urn is encased the following passage from Romeo and Juliet: "And when he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine, That all the world will be in love with night, And pay no worship to the garish sun."
But the most amazing thing of all is that all this litter actually bears some scientific value as well. In fact, the items strewn on the moon could well be integral to the eventual evolution of a whole new lunar biosphere. Astrobiologists, those responsible for investigating the possibility of life in outer space, are hopeful that the human waste, the vomitus, faeces and urine, may undergo any genetic mutations while in space and breed lifeforms that can survive in the vacuum. Scientists are also curious to observe which materials are capable of remaining undamaged in extreme environments like the moon, where temperatures can swing between between minus 370 degrees to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
But the most profound thing of all? All these discarded trinkets are likely to last much longer than you or I, or possibly longer than the rest of humanity. If anything were to happen to homo sapiens that would wipe them out, like an asteroid strike, nuclear warfare or mass disease, then these few trinkets, preserved forever in the airlessness of the void, may be the only thing in the universe that testify to the existence of our humble species of upright apes. Makes you think, doesn't it?