The Apollo landers were designed to lift off from the lunar surface at a particular weight. Since the Apollo astronauts were charged with bringing large amounts of Moon rock back home, the weight of those samples was offset by leaving behind unwanted items. This discarded junk included, among other things, two golf balls, 12 cameras, 12 pairs of boots, a gold-plated telescope, and a total of 96 bags of ‘human waste’ – urine, faeces and vomit!
Although not the best example of green thinking, this detritus will have had no permanent effect on the lunar environment. Any microorganisms present in the human waste could not have grown under the harsh conditions of the lunar surface. It is possible, however, that some could have survived for a time as dormant, inactive spores. So, after 50 years on the lunar surface the human waste, which is now probably just bags of dust, may contain important information on the survival of microorganisms in space.
Astrobiologists would like to see if any of those microorganisms have undergone any genetic mutations due to the harsh lunar environment, or have indeed survived in a dormant state. They hope one day that private companies may eventually return this human waste for study!
Get more fascinating Q&As from BBC Focus magazine by following @sciencefocusQA