7 Strange Things That Have Been Left On the Moon
by James Hunt
It has been over 40 years since mankind last set foot on the surface of the Moon, but that hasn't stopped it from becoming a popular destination for aspiring space travelers. Should the opportunity to visit ever arise, you probably think you know what to expect: dust, craters, and a bunch of abandoned spacecraft. But there might be a few surprises in store. Here are just a few of the weirdest things you might find on the surface of the Moon.
1. TWO GOLF BALLS
Alan Shepard holds the distinction of being the fifth and oldest person to walk on the Moon, but he's also the first person to play a round of golf. Using a Wilson-branded six-iron club head attached to a lunar sample scoop handle, Shepard made two drives: the first swing was “more dirt than ball,” but the second ball went—as he described it—"miles and miles and miles." Shepard brought the club back to Earth (it's in the United States Golf Association Museum in New Jersey), but didn't have enough time to retrieve the balls.
2. THE FALLEN ASTRONAUT
There isn't a huge amount of art on the moon, but there's probably more than you expect. One famous example is Fallen Astronaut, a 3.3-inch aluminum model placed on the surface by the crew of the Apollo 15. Intended—according to the accompanying plaque—to commemorate those who have died while pursuing space exploration, the sculpture was created by Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonck, but despite the accolade of having the first sculpture on the moon, Van Hoeydonck disputes its use, stating that he intended it to be placed upright and that it represented all humanity. Unfortunately, it's unlikely he'll get a chance to correct the orientation personally.
3. A PIECE OF LAVA FROM DEVIL'S LAKE IN OREGON
In a move that could seriously confuse lunar geologists of the distant future, Apollo 15 astronaut James Irwin left a small piece of solidified lava on the moon. The chunk of rock was taken from Devil's Lake near Bend, Oregon, where NASA sent its astronauts to practice taking rock samples. Each astronaut was hosted by locals, and Irwin was paired with building inspector Floyd Watson. Five years later, upon learning that Irwin was going to the moon, Watson asked Irwin if he'd take the rock up there with him. Watson did—and, as proof, he sent Irwin a photograph of the shard with a handwritten note stating "Oregon Lava on the Moon!"
4. A CHAPTER OF THE ALUMNI ASSOCIATION OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
By this point, it might seem like Apollo 15 did nothing but muck around when they went to the moon, but in addition to leaving behind tiny sculptures and rocks, the three astronauts (David Scott, James Irwin, and Alfred Worden in the Command Module) founded the first space-based chapter of their university's alumni association.
All three had attended the University of Michigan, so they left behind a small plaque containing the words, “This is to certify that The University of Michigan Club of The Moon is a duly constituted unit of the Alumni Association and entitled to all the rights and privileges under the Association’s Constitution.”
5. A BLANK PHOTOGRAPH
Lots of astronauts took photos on the Moon, but Charles Duke took a photo to the Moon. While on the Apollo 16 mission, he used the opportunity to place a photograph of his family up there. It shows him, his wife Dorothy, and their sons Charles and Thomas all sitting on a bench. The back reads "This is the family of Astronaut Duke from Planet Earth. Landed on the Moon, April 1972."
Unfortunately, the sunlight is harsh on the Moon, temperatures are extreme, and the solar radiation is untempered by any significant magnetosphere for most of its orbit. Photographic prints fade pretty quickly, even under relatively controlled conditions, so—plastic bag or not—after 44 years, there's very little chance you'll still be able to make out the picture itself.
6. AN X-RATED ANDY WARHOL DRAWING
As if to prove that anything could happen in the 1960s, when Apollo 12 went to the Moon in late 1969 it took with it a tiny ceramic wafer which contained artwork by six prominent artists. Titled Moon Museum, it contains material from Robert Rauschenberg, David Novros, John Chamberlain, Claes Oldenburg, Forrest Myers, and Andy Warhol, and was unofficially attached to the leg of the Intrepid landing module by an aircraft engineer. The module was left behind when the astronauts returned to the orbiting capsule, so it should still be up there. Warhol's drawing in the top left corner was (allegedly) a stylized version of his initials—but was labeled as phallic by many who saw it.
7. A MESSAGE FROM THE QUEEN
Don't get confused, Her Majesty hasn't been into space (yet), but Apollo 11 did carry a little part of the British monarchy up there with it. When they went to the Moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were asked to leave behind a silicon disk just 1.5 inches across. It contains, in microscopic writing, goodwill messages from prominent figures and leaders of nearly 75 countries, including Pope Paul VI, Indira Gandhi, and Queen Elizabeth II as well as statements from Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon. It was designed to remain intact for thousands of years and serves as a reminder that despite the international turmoil of the 20th century, leaders across the globe were united in their optimism about space travel.