Those of you who saw Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity this past weekend—and if the box office numbers are any indication there were a lot of you—then you’re well aware of the hazards of the random junk that we as a species leave floating out in space. There appears to be a bunch, though not all of it is zipping around at 50,000 miles per hour, threatening to shred Sandra Bullock. In the course of our history, twelve humans has walked on the Moon, and, much like a Labor Day campsite, we’ve used our only organic satellite as a de facto garbage dump. One item in particular that we’ve left on the Moon may catch your attention is human feces. That’s right, we flew all the way to the Moon—all 238,900 miles—and pooped on it.
In order to lighten the load—not intended as a euphemism—for the return home, astronauts ditched what is commonly known as their “defecation collection devices,” or emesis bags, which, as you probably guessed, are used to store human waste. And these nifty little sacks of human poo are still there, chilling on the surface of the moon. Most of us will get a ticket if we don’t clean up after our dogs at the park, so it seems a little unfair that astronauts can fling their crap around space with impunity. You have to look no farther than what happened to Dave Matthews to see the consequences of adopting a similar practice here on Earth.
Aside from feces, astronauts have left all sorts of things on the lunar surface. Flags, random bits of unnecessary equipment, a small memorial to fellow fallen space men, and even golf balls litter the Moon. Not to mention the fact that it has been used as a retirement home for old satellites and such. And by retirement home I mean that’s where they’re crashed when they’re no longer useful or functioning.
As gross as littering the Moon with human poo initially sounds, we may actually be able to glean valuable knowledge from these leftover emesis bags. Biologists want to examine the samples in order to discern how bacteria act and live, or don’t, in such an environment. This could yield potentially useful information about life outside of our own atmosphere.
There are also historians who want the locations of the Moon landings preserved as World Heritage Sites. While that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon, NASA has created guidelines for potential future commercial lunar vacations. When your summer vacation takes you and you family to the Moon, you should maintain a minimum distance of half a mile from the Apollo sites. Sorry, no climbing on space trash and taking pictures for you. And spacecraft shouldn’t land any closer than a mile and a quarter from these historical zones.
But perhaps most importantly, if and when we can vacation on the Moon, watch where you step. No one wants to ride all the way back to Earth with a poo-covered shoe, especially since you can’t roll down the windows.