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We’ve already begun trashing the moon: A summary of what’s been left up there

Humanity may not be living on the moon just yet, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t left a mark on its surface. Or marks, if you will – about 400,000 pounds of it. That number is the estimated, collective weight of all the human trash that’s accumulated on the face of Earth’s satellite.

Shocking as it may be to us, to William Barry, that figure isn’t surprising at all. According to Barry, who is the chief historian of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), that 400,000 lbs are composed of all kinds of debris.

For one, there are bits and pieces left over from the Saturn V, a colossal super heavy-lift launch vehicle whose payload came to a total mass of 99,000 lbs. Five moon rangers are on the moon too, as are numerous unmanned spacecraft launched by Russia, Japan, China, and India.

Although it hasn’t been updated since 2012, the Catalogue of Manmade Material on the Moon provides a good picture of what else is strewn across the lunar surface. A gold olive branch, a falcon feather, a flag kit, a hammer, a urine collection device, and several golf balls are just some of the items remaining on the moon.

Barry explained that the majority of this trash was the result of man attempting to better understand the moon. Back in the 1960s, some scientists were convinced that the moon’s exterior was like quicksand due to all the space rocks and other cosmic debris that whaled on it throughout its existence. The lunar probes sent up there proved that idea wrong when they were able to land (or in some cases, crash) on solid ground. Following that, even more spacecraft was propelled into space. A few were there to chart its terrain, others were created to identify the presence of specific elements. Nearly all became lunar garbage in due time. (Related: Video game orbital lasers come to life: Chinese engineers propose to zap space debris out of orbit with giant lasers)


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