In Case You Missed It: More Trash, This Time on Mars

Image (Credit): Illustration of the Opportunity rover on Mars. The rover was declared dead in 2019. (NASA, JPL/ Cornell University)

In an earlier post, I noted the amount of poop as well as other trash left behind on the Moon from prior lunar missions. Well, Cagri Kilic, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at West Virginia University, also ventured a guess at the amount of human trash that has already accummulated on the surface of Mars.

In the article he authored for The Conversation back in September, “Mars is Littered with 15,694 Pounds of Human Trash from 50 Years of Robotic Exploration,” he provided a figure as well as his methodology:

When you add up the mass of all spacecraft that have ever been sent to Mars, you get about 22,000 pounds (9979 kilograms). Subtract the weight of the currently operational craft on the surface – 6,306 pounds (2,860 kilograms) – and you are left with 15,694 pounds (7,119 kilograms) of human debris on Mars.

That’s a fair amount of trash and defunct equipment. And we are still adding to this toll, with plans to eventually send humans and material for settlements to the Red Planet. The same goes for the Moon, with multiple bases planned by the US, China, and Russia.

I expect we will see some other estimates in the future on what has been left on other planets, moons, and asteroids. And let’s not forget the five spacecraft we have shot beyond Pluto.

We humans do tend to leave a mess where ever we go. We may be explorers, but Boy Scouts would take issue given their principle “Leave No Trace.”

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.

In Case You Missed It/Podcast: Retelling the Story of the Mission to the Moon

Image: Chesley Bonestell art printed in “The Conquest of the Moon” (1953). Mr. Bonestell’s art is mentioned in the Moonrise podcast.

If you are looking for a good story that you to listen to during your next car trip, you cannot do better than the Washington Post’s Moonrise podcast. It has a bit of everything, including science fiction stories, Nazi war machines, Russian persecution, American post-WWII politics, and a bit of astronomy as well.

Here is how the program sells itself:

Want to uncover the real origin story behind the United States’ decision to go to the moon? In the 50 years since the moon landing, as presidential documents have been declassified and secret programs revealed, a wild story has begun to emerge. “Moonrise,” a Washington Post audio miniseries hosted by Lillian Cunningham, digs into the nuclear arms race of the Cold War, the transformation of American society and politics ⁠— and even the birth of science fiction ⁠— to unearth what really drove us to the moon. Come along with us on a fascinating journey from Earth to the moon.

You can learn how President Kennedy tried to get the Soviet Union to join the Apollo program – twice. You can also hear about the Apollo 11 mission competing with a Soviet spacecraft trying to land on the Moon at the same time. And have you heard about the civil rights protests at the Apollo 11 launch site?

The podcast is a well crafted story trying to weave together many threads in a mostly successful way. It is still astonishing that the early Space Race was really lead by a former Nazi representing the United States and a former political prisoner representing the Soviets. Today the Apollo story is mostly a warm blur from the past, but I believe it is worth your time to listen to the full story. It is the foundation of our space exploration efforts, for better or worse.

In Case You Missed It: Moons of Exomoons

Image (Credit): Example of an Earth-sized moon around a Neptune-sized moon around Jupiter. (Cool World Labs)

Hearing about the moonlet targeted by the DART spacecraft reminded me of a recent video discussing whether exomoons could have their own moons. It was a piece by Cool World Labs titled “Can Moons Have Moons?” It gets into the “Hill Sphere,” which is an astronomical body’s region in which it dominates the attraction of satellites. It can get pretty complex, as the drawing above demonstrates, but its an interesting concept that has yet to be proven in our own solar system or elsewhere. Given that Cool World Labs is already finding exomoons, it may be only a matter of time before we experience these submoons.

In Case You Missed It: Hubble Finds Water on an Exoplanet

Image (Credit): Recent JWST analysis of exoplanet WASP-96 b. (NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

The recent James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) images included hot gas giant exoplanet WASP-96 b, with NASA noting that the space telescope “…has captured the distinct signature of water, along with evidence for clouds and haze, in the atmosphere surrounding a hot, puffy gas giant planet orbiting a distant Sun-like star.”

The same NASA article also noted that the Hubble Space Telescope had found the first evidence of water on a exoplanet back in 2013. So I thought I would dig out that earlier from the European Space Agency, titled “Hubble Finds Water Vapour on Habitable-Zone Exoplanet for the First Time“:

With data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, water vapour has been detected in the atmosphere of a super-Earth within the habitable zone by University College London (UCL) researchers in a world first. K2-18b, which is eight times the mass of Earth, is now the only planet orbiting a star outside the Solar System, or exoplanet, known to have both water and temperatures that could support life.

The parent star, K2-18, is 110 light years from Earth in the constellation of Leo. Maybe we can convince the ESA and others to take another look with the JWST, assuming it is not already on the list of many upcoming projects.