We all remember Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. They were a landmark moment in human history, firmly marking our entry into the cosmos. What isn’t discussed—or included in documentaries and dramatic retellings—is what was left behind when Apollo 11's crew returned to Earth: stinky astronaut diapers full of historic moon poops.
Thankfully, Vox’s Brian Resnick is here to share a very detailed explanation of why we should care more about the lonely piles of crap left all alone on the cold, lifeless surface of the moon. Resnick describes the research potential of the space poop that’s stood silent watch over our planet for decades, speaking to scientists about the value of determining whether or not the “whole wondrous ecosystem” of microbes found in human waste could survive “the brutal environment of the moon.”
“With the Apollo 11 moon landing, we took microbial life on Earth to the most extreme environment it has ever been in,” he writes. “Which means the human feces—along with bags of urine, food waste, vomit, and other waste in the bags, which also might contain microbial life—on the moon represents a natural, though unintended, experiment.”
After a brief detour explaining how astronaut diapers were constructed and worn circa 1969 (please follow the included link to a NASA article that begins, “Defecation and urination have been bothersome aspects of space travel from the beginning of manned space flight”), Resnick runs down the fairly slim chances that any poop microbes have survived decades on the moon, but highlights the importance of retrieving and studying the waste for its ability to help plan future Mars missions and better understand the origins of life on Earth.
Basically, there’s a whole lot of valuable data to be found by any brave astronaut willing to venture back to the moon and gingerly pick up old bags of soiled diapers between huge-gloved thumb and huge-gloved forefinger. If your interest in this extremely down-to-earth aspect of space travel is piqued, read the full article to learn more about a subject bound to impress whoever you’re eating dinner with tonight.
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