Maria Temming, Science News Writer explains, Fifty years ago, astronauts left more than footprints on Earth’s lunar neighbor
This photo, taken in 1969 by Astronaut Neil Armstrong, shows Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Apollo astronauts left a lot on the moon’s surface, from scientific instruments to trash.
Photo: NASAFifty years ago, astronauts first walked on the moon. Part of NASA’s Apollo program, they kicked off six missions to visit Earth’s lunar neighbor. Once on the moon, Apollo astronauts had two main goals: Get themselves and the moon rocks they gathered home safely.
That meant making space on cramped lunar modules for around 360 kilograms (about 800 pounds) of moon samples. Anything they didn’t need for the ride home got tossed — cameras, hammocks, boots and trash. They even ditched big stuff like moon buggies and launchpads.
But the astronauts left more than trashed castoffs. The crews marked their visits with six American flags and plenty of keepsakes. They also left behind about a dozen experiments to keep tabs on the moon. One still runs today.
These experiments were important parts of Apollo, says Noah Petro. He is based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. There he works as a project scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission. Its aim has been to map the moon...
Astronauts left more elaborate setups during other Apollo missions. Some of the nuclear-powered devices collected data through 1977. As NASA decided to focus on other projects, it pulled the plug on the whole operation.
The data sat unstudied for years, Petro says. But within the last decade, a new generation of scientists has taken up the torch. They are analyzing Apollo observations to answer some lingering questions.
Source: Science News for Students