In Case You Missed It: Poop for the Ages

Image (Credit): A trasch bag lying beneath the Apollo Lunar Module in 1969. (NASA)

Back in July 2019, Vox had a great article about the waste astronauts left behind on the Moon. In the article, “Apollo Astronauts Left Their Poop on the Moon. We Gotta Go Back for That Shit.,” we learn about approximately 96 bags of human waste left behind on the moon. The topic is relevant today because (1) we are talking about returning to the Moon under the Artemis mission and (2) we probably want to learn more about the lifespan of this waste before we continue to deposit it on the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere. So maybe it is time to revisit the poop.

Earlier, The Atlantic had another article that listed much more human debris on the Moon than just the 96 bags (of urine, feces, and vomit, mind you). Here is the incomplete list:

  • more than 70 spacecraft, including rovers, modules, and crashed orbiters;
  • 5 American flags;
  • 2 golf balls;
  • 12 pairs of boots;
  • TV cameras;
  • film magazines;
  • 96 bags of urine, feces, and vomit;
  • numerous Hasselbad cameras and accessories;
  • several improvised javelins;
  • various hammers, tongs, rakes, and shovels;
  • backpacks;
  • insulating blankets;
  • utility towels;
  • used wet wipes;
  • personal hygiene kits;
  • empty packages of space food;
  • a photograph of Apollo 16 astronaut Charles Duke’s family;
  • a feather from Baggin, the Air Force Academy’s mascot falcon, used to conduct Apollo 15’s famous “hammer-feather drop” experiment;
  • a small aluminum sculpture, a tribute to the American and Soviet “fallen astronauts” who died in the space race—left by the crew of Apollo 15;
  • a patch from the never-launched Apollo 1 mission, which ended prematurely when flames engulfed the command module during a 1967 training exercise, killing three U.S. astronauts;
  • a small silicon disk bearing goodwill messages from 73 world leaders, and left on the moon by the crew of Apollo 11;
  • a silver pin, left by Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean;
  • a medal honoring Soviet cosmonauts Vladimir Komarov and Yuri Gagarin; and
  • a cast golden olive branch left by the crew of Apollo 11.

In the 2022 movie Moonshot, we sent Martian trash back to Earth. But that was not the case with the Moon. And now China and Russia are clamoring to do the same in the near future. Will the Moon someday be marked with more trash heaps than craters?

One might argue that explorers throughout time have had to leave something behind. Think of the piles of trash as well as corpses left on the top of Mount Everest. The great sea explorers also left plenty of men, material, and ships at the bottom of the sea where they would remain unclaimed.

But the interesting part of the Vox story is the potential of life remaining in that trash and even producing new life. If such biological material can seed new life, then who can say whether the Earth was simply a rest stop for aliens on their way somewhere else, and we are the product of their poop.

One more thing. If we do manage to let the Earth slip away from us and flip into another Venusian nightmare, the Moon poop may be the only human biology for a future alien to analyze. We sent the Voyager and other spacecraft out into the void with recordings and data, but no one thought about adding a biological component. Well, now we have that surviving piece on the Moon should it be needed. If we can figure out what a Tyrannosaurus was eating millions of years ago, maybe future visitors can figure out what the astronauts were eating in 20th century Texas.

Intense stuff, and worth reading about when you have a moment.