Time To Talk About The Poop On The Moon
Remember in Jurassic Park when Laura Dern’s character Dr. Ellie Sattler stuck her hand in some Triceratops dung?
Epic gross level, for sure, but if you’re a scientist confronted with never-before-seen microbial life, it would be kind of dumb not to, and you’d be laughed at come the annual Dung Awards, which should totally be a thing.
Now, consider the human dung on the moon. During the six Apollo missions that landed on Earth’s natural satellite, around 96 bags of human waste were left behind for no reason other than to stabilize weight onboard. For every moon rock that was brought back home, an equal weight needed to be shed, and bags filled with astronaut diapers seemed the logical exchange at the time. Yes, astronaut diapers. They called them “maximum absorbency garments,” but really, it’s just a big ol’ diaper. Let’s take a quick beat here and look at this feat of scientific engineering:
That was just for when the astronauts were on the moon itself. When they weren’t bopping around on the surface, they had to deal with what was called the “Apollo fecal collection assembly,” which is basically a plastic bag attached to an astronaut’s butt:
These diapers and plastic poop bags -- along with food waste, vomit, and urine bags -- were collected in impressively sturdy jettisoned trash bags and dumped on the surface of the moon where the solar radiation would presumably sanitize it. The thing is, we don’t know what’s happened to the thousands of bacterial gut life inside those bags. Chances are slim that anything could’ve survived the moon’s killer environment, but those chances aren’t exactly zero either. Space scientists have calculated that, while there’s a low probability of anything making it inside those bags, it’s the highest probability of anything that landed on the moon.
That is why NASA plans on picking up and studying those bags when they return to the moon sometime in the near future because there are some interesting questions to be answered here: Did the jettisoned bags filled with poop manage to stay tear-free? If not, how long did it take for the microbial life inside of it to die from solar radiation? And the biggest question of all: Were there any signs of mutation? Did astronauts’ poop try and create new microbes able to laugh in the face of things like vacuums and extreme temperatures and whatever the hell is on the moon right now? Who, we daresay, will be brave enough to direct the Aliens vs. Super Poop movie? All equally valid and important questions, right here.
Microbes are resilient little buggers, and they don’t need a lot of protection to survive. The study of these poop bags is critical for us to understand life and the potential thereof within the cosmos. After all, if there’s anything Jurassic Park has taught us besides the fact that we have no idea what dinosaurs really looked like and that no, that’s not how mosquitoes work, it’s that life, well, it finds a way.
Zanandi talks poop non-stop on Twitter. Follow her.
Top Image: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio