Study of Moon Rocks Suggest Interior of the Moon is Really Dry

Long before the Apollo missions reached the Moon, Earth’s only satellites has been the focal point of intense interest and research. But thanks to the samples of lunar rock that were returned to Earth by the Apollo astronauts, scientists have been able to conduct numerous studies to learn more about the Moon’s formation and history. A key research goal has been determining how much volatile elements the Moon possesses.

Intrinsic to this is determining how much water the Moon possesses, and whether it has a “wet” interior. If the Moon does have abundant sources of water, it will make establishing outposts there someday much more feasible. However, according to a new study by an international team of researchers, the interior of the Moon is likely very dry, which they concluded after studying a series of “rusty” lunar rock samples collected by the Apollo 16 mission.

The study, titled “Late-Stage Magmatic Outgassing from a Volatile-Depleted Moon“, appeared recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Led by James M. D. Day of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, the team’s research was funded by the NASA Emerging Worlds program – which finances research into the Solar System’s formation and early evolution.

Collection site of 66095 (bottom left) and the “Rusty Rock” lunar rock sample obtained there (center). Credit: NASA

Determining how rich the Moon is in terms of volatile elements and compounds – such as zinc, potassium, chlorine, and water – is important because it provides insight into how the Moon and Earth formed and evolved. The most-widely accepted theory is that Moon is the result of “catastrophic formation”, where a Mars-sized object (named Theia) collided with Earth about 4.5 billion years ago.

The debris kicked up by this impact eventually coalesced to form the Moon, which then moved away from Earth to assume its current orbit. In accordance with this theory, the Moon’s surface would have been an ocean of magma during its early history. As a result, volatile elements and compounds within the Moon’s mantle would have been depleted, much in the same way that the Earth’s upper mantle is depleted of these elements.

As Dr. Day explained in a Scripps Institution press statement:

“It’s been a big question whether the moon is wet or dry. It might seem like a trivial thing, but this is actually quite important. If the moon is dry – like we’ve thought for about the last 45 years, since the Apollo missions – it would be consistent with the formation of the Moon in some sort of cataclysmic impact event that formed it.”

Cross-polarized light image of a portion of the interior of the lunar ‘Rusty Rock’. Credit: NASA

For the sake of their study, the team examined a lunar rock named “Rusty Rock 66095” to determine the volatile content of the Moon’s interior. These rocks have mystified scientists since they were first brought back by the Apollo 16 mission in 1972. Water is an essential ingredient to rust, which led scientists to conclude that the Moon must have an indigenous source of water – something which seemed unlikely, given the Moon’s extremely tenuous atmosphere.

Using a new chemical analysis, Day and his colleagues determined the levels of istopically light zinc (Zn66) and heavy chlorine (Cl37), as well as the levels of heavy metals (uranium and lead) in the rock. Zinc was the key element here, since it is a volatile element that would have behaved somewhat like water under the extremely hot conditions that were present during the Moon’s formation.

Ultimately, the supply of volatiles and heavy metals in the sample support the theory that volatile enrichment of the lunar surface occurred as a result of vapor condensation. In other words, when the Moon’s surface was still an ocean of hot magma, its volatiles evaporated and escaped from the interior. Some of these then condensed and were deposited back on the surface as it cooled and solidified.

This would explain the volatile-rich nature of some rocks on the lunar surface, as well as the levels of light zinc in both the Rusty Rock samples and the previously-studied volcanic glass beads. Basically, both were enriched by water and other volatiles thanks to extreme outgassing from the Moon’s interior. However, these same conditions meant that most of the water in the Moon’s mantle would have evaporated and been lost to space.

Near-infrared image of the Moon’s surface by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper on the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 mission
Image credit: ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown Univ./USGS

This represents something of a paradox, in that it shows how rocks that contain water were formed in a very dry, interior part of the Moon. However, as Day indicated, it offers a sound explanation for an enduring lunar mystery:

“I think the Rusty Rock was seen for a long time as kind of this weird curiosity, but in reality, it’s telling us something very important about the interior of the moon. These rocks are the gifts that keep on giving because every time you use a new technique, these old rocks that were collected by Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Charlie Duke, John Young, and the Apollo astronaut pioneers, you get these wonderful insights.”

These results contradict other studies that suggest the Moon’s interior is wet, one of which was recently conducted by researchers at Brown University. By combining data provided by Chandrayaan-1 and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) with new thermal profiles, the Brown research team concluded that lots of water exists within volcanic deposits on the Moon’s surface, which could also mean there are vast quantities of water in the Moon’s interior.

To these, Day emphasized that while these studies present evidence that water exists on the lunar surface, they have yet to offer a solid explanation for what mechanisms deposited it on the surface. Day and his colleague’s study also flies in the face of other recent studies, which claim that the Moon’s water came from an external source – either by comets which deposited it, or from Earth during the formation of the Earth-Moon system.

Other studies indicate that evidence from ancient volcanic deposits suggests that lunar magma contained substantial amounts of water, hinting at water in the interior. Credit: Olga Prilipko Huber

Those who believe that lunar water was deposited by comets cite the similarities between the ratios of hydrogen to deuterium (aka. “heavy hydrogen”) in both the Apollo lunar rock samples and known comets. Those who believe the Moon’s water came from Earth, on the other hand, point to the similarity between water isotopes on both the Moon and Earth.

In the end, future research is needed to confirm where all of the Moon’s water came from, and whether or not it exists within the Moon’s interior. Towards this end, one of Day’s PhD students – Carrie McIntosh – is conducting her own research into the lunar glass beads and the composition of the deposits. These and other research studies ought to settle the debate soon enough!

And not a moment too soon, considering that multiple space agencies hope to build a lunar outpost in the upcoming decades. If they hope to have a steady supply of water for creating hydrazene (rocket fuel) and growing plants, they’ll need to know if and where it can be found!

Further Reading: UC San Diego, PNAS

NASA and Space Station Astronauts Salute Americas Veterans This Veteran’s Day

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly salutes all past and present US Veterans from the International Space Station on Veteran’s Day Nov. 11, 2015. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly salutes all past and present US Veterans from the International Space Station on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, 2015. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

The entire NASA family on Earth and NASA’s two astronauts serving aboard the Earth orbiting International Space Station (ISS) salute all our country’s brave veterans on this Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, 2015.

NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren saluted America’s veterans today with out of this world salutes and beautiful photos of the American flag back dropped by Earth from the stations orbital altitude of 250 miles (400 km) above the planet. See above and below.

“NASA salutes our country’s veterans this Veteran’s Day,” wrote NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a special Veteran’s Day message. Bolden is also a former astronaut and served as Major General in the US Marine Corps. Continue reading “NASA and Space Station Astronauts Salute Americas Veterans This Veteran’s Day”

Water On The Moon Was Blown in by Solar Wind

When they first set foot on the Moon, the Apollo 11 astronauts painted a picture of the landscape as a bone-dry desert. So astronomers were naturally surprised when in 2009, three probes showed that a lot of water is locked up in minerals in the soil. There has been some debate as to where the water came from, but now two researchers with the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, have determined that most of the water in the soil on the surface of the Moon was formed due to protons in the solar wind colliding with oxygen in lunar dust, rather than from comet or meteorite impacts.

The first hints that there was water on the Moon came when India’s Chandrayaan-1 found hints of water across the lunar surface when it measured a dip in reflected sunlight at a wavelength absorbed only by water and hydroxyl, a molecule that contains one atom of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen.

To help clarify this picture, NASA scientists turned to data collected by two of their space probes – the Cassini probe, which buzzed the moon in 1999 on its way to Saturn, and NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft, which flew past the moon in June 2009 en route to an encounter with the comet Hartley 2. Both spacecraft confirmed the evidence of water and hydroxyl, molecules that are likely both present on the moon.

Lunar Crater as imaged by NASA's  Moon Mineralogy Mapper. Image Credit: SRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS/Brown Univ.
Lunar Crater as imaged by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper. Image Credit: SRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS/Brown Univ.

There were three likely explanations as to how that water got there. Comets and meteorites were two possibilities, while others believed it may be caused by solar wind. In the latter case, the water would have been formed by streams of plasma emanating from the sun’s upper atmosphere and smashing high-energy protons into the moon’s surface. Cosmic rays from outside the solar system could inject ions into lunar rocks as well, causing chemical changes that create water.

To find out the likeliest source of the water, Alice Stephant and Francois Robert measured the ratio of hydrogen and deuterium in soil samples from the Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 missions. They ran the samples through a type of mass spectrometer that not only detects which isotopes are present but how deep down they are in a surface sample.

In studying tiny grains of lunar soil samples, they found that the reduction of oxygen from silicates in the soil by protons from the solar wind was almost certainly the means by which the water was generated. They came to that conclusion through determining the lithium isotope ratio in the samples which gave the isotope ratio for the hydrogen. From that, they were able to calculate the deuterium-hydrogen ratio which they compared to the amount of water actually in the granule sample.

Because there tends to be more deuterium further from the sun, each possible source of lunar water should give a different ratio. Comets and meteorites have distinctive proportions, while protons from the solar wind or cosmic rays would each have different ratios.

What they found was that on average, the granules contained just 15 percent water from somewhere else (presumably comets or meteorites) leaving the rest to have been formed due to the solar wind interaction. They note also that for some samples, all of the water was due to solar wind interaction.

“We confirm that result,” said Stephant. “Water-rich meteorite and comet impacts do not bring important amounts of water to the surface of the moon.”

Alberto Saal at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, is pleased with the result. “I think the idea that most of the water in the surface of the moon comes from solar wind implantations is most likely correct,” he says.

In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Alice Stephant and François Robert describe their study and the results they found. However, they were also quick to point out that their conclusions only relate to water found on the surface of the moon – whereas the origin of the water below the surface is still open to interpretation.

Further reading: PNAS

What Does The Apollo 11 Moon Landing Site Look Like Today?

Forty-five years ago yesterday, the Sea of Tranquility saw a brief flurry of activity when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin dared to disturb the ancient lunar dust. Now the site has lain quiet, untouched, for almost half a century. Are any traces of the astronauts still visible?

The answer is yes! Look at the picture above of the site taken in 2012, two years ago. Because erosion is a very gradual process on the moon — it generally takes millions of years for meteors and the sun’s activity to weather features away — the footprints of the Apollo 11 crew have a semi-immortality. That’s also true of the other five crews that made it to the moon’s surface.

In honor of the big anniversary, here are a few of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s pictures of the landing sites of Apollo 11, Apollo 12, Apollo 14, Apollo 15, Apollo 16 and Apollo 17. (Apollo 13 was slated to land on the moon, but that was called off after an explosion in its service module.)

The Apollo 12 and Surveyor 3 landing sites in the Ocean of Storms on the moon. Visible is the descent stage of Intrepid (the lunar module) and the robotic craft Surveyor 3, which the astronauts took a sample from while they were on the surface. Also labelled are craters the astronauts visited. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
The Apollo 12 and Surveyor 3 landing sites in the Ocean of Storms on the moon. Visible is the descent stage of Intrepid (the lunar module) and the robotic craft Surveyor 3, which the astronauts took a sample from while they were on the surface. Also labelled are craters the astronauts visited. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
The Apollo 14 landing site imaged by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2011. At right is the descent stage of Antares, the lunar module. At far left, beside the cart tracks and marked by an arrow, is the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
The Apollo 14 landing site at Fra Mauro, imaged by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2011. At right is the descent stage of Antares, the lunar module. At far left, beside the cart tracks and marked by an arrow, is the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
The Apollo 15 landing site at Hadley plains, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from an altitude of 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) in 2012. Visible is the descent stage of Falcon (the lunar module), the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP). The site is marked by rover tracks. Credit: NASA Goddard/Arizona State University
The Apollo 15 landing site at Hadley plains, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from an altitude of 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) in 2012. Visible is the descent stage of Falcon (the lunar module), the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP). The site is marked by rover tracks. Credit: NASA Goddard/Arizona State University
The Apollo 16 landing site in the Descartes Highlands, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2010. Visible is the descent stage of Orion, the lunar module (LM), the "parking spot" of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), the Apollo Lunar Science Experiment Package (ALSEP), a radioisotope generator (RTG) and the geophone line, which is part of the mission's Active Seismic Experiment. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University
The Apollo 16 landing site in the Descartes Highlands, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2010. Visible is the descent stage of lunar module (LM) Orion, the “parking spot” of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and its tracks, the Apollo Lunar Science Experiment Package (ALSEP), a radioisotope generator (RTG) and the geophone line, which is part of the mission’s Active Seismic Experiment. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University
The Apollo 17 landing site at Taurus-Littrow taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2011. Visible is the descent stage of the lunar module Challenger, the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and its tracks, the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP) and Geophone Rock. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/ASU
The Apollo 17 landing site at Taurus-Littrow taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2011. Visible is the descent stage of the lunar module Challenger, the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and its tracks, the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP) and Geophone Rock. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/ASU

Watch All The Apollo Saturn V Rockets Blast Off At The Same Time

Editor’s note: We posted this yesterday only to find that the original video we used had been pulled. Now, we’ve reposted the article with a new and improved version of the video, thanks to Spacecraft Films.

To the moon! The goal people most remember from the Apollo program was setting foot on the surface of our closest neighbor. To get there required a heck of a lot of firepower, bundled in the Saturn V rocket. The video above gives you the unique treat of watching each rocket launch at the same time.

Some notes on the rockets you see:

  • Apollos 4 and 6 were uncrewed test flights.
  • Apollo 9 was an Earth-orbit flight to (principally) test the lunar module.
  • Apollo 8 and 10 were both flights around the moon (with no lunar landing).
  • Apollo 13 was originally scheduled to land on the moon but famously experienced a dangerous explosion that forced the astronauts to come back to Earth early — but safely.
  • Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 safely made it to the moon’s surface and back.
  • Skylab’s launch was also uncrewed; the Saturn V was used in this case to send a space station into Earth’s orbit that was used by three crews in the 1970s.
  • You don’t see Apollo 7 pictured here because it did not use the Saturn V rocket; it instead used the Saturn IB. It was an Earth-orbiting flight and the first successful manned one of the Apollo program. (Apollo 1 was the first scheduled crew, but the three men died in a launch pad fire.)

And if this isn’t enough firepower for you, how about all 135 space shuttle launches at the same time?

Read more about the Saturn V at NASA and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

(h/t Sploid)

All Saturn V Launches At Once from Spacecraft Films on Vimeo.

Moon Dust Could ‘Engulf’ Lunar Rovers — Especially During Sunrise and Sunset

Apollo 17 Mission

That video above is perhaps the ultimate off-roading adventure: taking a rover out for a spin on the moon. Look past the cool factor for a minute, though, and observe the dust falling down around that astronaut.

The crew aboard Apollo 16 (as well as other Apollo missions) had a lot of problems with regolith. It got into everything. It was so abrasive that it wore away some equipment in days. It smelled funny and probably wasn’t all that good to breathe in, either. Many have said that when we return to the moon, dust must be dealt with for long-term survival.

Things could get worse at sunrise and sunset. One new study (not peer-reviewed yet) finds a “serious risk” that rovers “could be engulfed in dust.” That’s because lunar dust appears to have electrostatic properties that, somehow, is triggered by changes in sunlight. (NASA is already doing some serious investigation into this matter using its orbiting missions.)

What the researchers did, in conjunction with ONERA (The French Center of Aerospace Research) was conduct simulations for two types of lunar regions — the terminator (the day/night boundary) and an area experiencing full sunlight.

“Dust particles were introduced into the simulation over a period of time, when both the surface and the rover were in electrical equilibrium,” the Royal Astronomical Society stated.

“In both the test cases, dust particles travel upwards above the height of the rover, but results suggest that they move in different directions. On the day side, the particles are pushed outwards and on the terminator the dust travels upwards and inwards above the rover, regrouping in the vacuum above it. The terminator simulation began with a region void of dust which was later filled by lunar dust particles.”

The bottom line? A lunar rover could accumulate a significant amount of dust on the moon, especially if it’s sitting at or near the terminator. This could be addressed by using dome-shaped rovers that would see the dust fall off, added lead author Farideh Honary, a physicist at the University of Lancaster, in a statement.

The work was presented at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting today (July 3). A paper has been submitted to the Journal for Geophysical Research, so more details should be forthcoming if and when it is published.

Credit: Royal Astronomical Society

When Typhoid (Briefly) Struck Apollo 16

Astronaut pranks are, well, just a part of the job. Often they poke at a sore spot in the astronaut’s history, and Charles Duke found himself the subject of a particularly painful one in the 1970s.

Duke was in the final moments of preparations before climbing into the Apollo 16 spacecraft, which was exploring the Moon in this week in 1972. It was a serious moment as Duke and his crew were about to rocket off to the moon. Then Duke got a surprise, courtesy of backup commander Fred Haise, as Duke recalled in an interview with NASA in 1999.

We were up climbing into the command module on the launch pad, and [launch pad leader] Guenter Wendt and the team were up there. And so John gets in, and I’m the next in on the right side. And as I start to climb in, I reach in and I look over and taped to the back of my seat was a big thing, “Typhoid Mary suit—seat.” So, we had a … laugh over that. Yeah, Fred would never let me forget that.

Typhoid Mary referred to Mary Mallon, a cook who was put under quarantine for the latter half of her life in the 1900s — against her stringent objections. She was accused of passing along typhoid to several families for which she did cooking, even though she didn’t show any symptoms herself. At the time, typhoid had no cure. Her curious story has been the subject of a PBS show and numerous books.

The joke on Duke hearkened back to the ill-fated Apollo 13 two years before, when Duke’s son caught the German measles. Duke fell ill and unwittingly exposed several astronauts during his contagion period — including the upcoming Apollo 13 prime crew of Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Ken Mattingly.

Of the three crew members, Mattingly had not been exposed to the German measles. This led to Mattingly being yanked from the mission days before launch. Adding to the drama, Apollo 13 suffered an explosion in space that crippled the spacecraft and, without the extraordinary efforts of the astronauts and Mission Control, could have killed the crew.

Anyway, Apollo 13 came back safely, and in 1972 lessons had been learned from the mission. Haise, to his credit, wasn’t afraid to poke a little fun at the early havoc Duke’s illness wreaked on his crew.

What are your favorite astronaut pranks?

Spectacular 360-Degree 3-D Panorama from Apollo 16

Dealing with those who think the Apollo Moon landings never happened can be frustrating. Most of us just throw up our hands in exasperation, but Italian amateur astronomer Roberto Beltramini came up with a better idea: create a full 360-degree 3-D panorama of images from Apollo 16 to show “the true depth of the views taken by astronauts Apollo,” he said. “What better proof? This was the motivation that prompted me to start, but the spectacle and the interest in new ways of seeing the [Moon’s] wilderness, made me go farther.”

This panorama has now been put into a “Zoomify” making it fully interactive and lots of fun to explore. Grab your 3-D glasses, and you can find a rock and zoom in, follow the astronauts’ footprints and see one of the astronauts tinkering with the Lunar Rover. Click here and enjoy!

Beltramini’s initial plan was to create just a few 3-D anaglyghs, but once he got started, he just kept going. But of course, the Apollo 16 images taken by astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke as they walked, bounded and drove the lunar rover on the Moon’s surface were not originally taken with the intent to be made into 3-D view, making Beltramini’s job fairly difficult.

“The difficulty of making anaglyph, due to the shots not performed specifically for the purpose, may have dampened the attempts of other enthusiasts,” he writes on the website for amateur astronomy group in Viareggio, in the Tuscany region of Italy (Gruppo Astronomico Viareggio.) “To overcome this obstacle, I had to work adapting the pairs of pictures with graphics programs, cropping, resizing, by cleaning scratches and stains present because of the scans on the original story. Other marks are very annoying problem, that is, the black crosses placed at regular intervals in photographs taken during the Apollo missions that I had to delete one by one to avoid that interfere with 3D viewing.”

But over time he figured out how to make it work, “thanks to the phenomenon of rotation around a nodal point during the panning of the Apollo missions is possible, if there is plenty of overlap of the images, create a 3D 360 degree panorama,” he told Universe Today.

Apollo 16 was the fourth mission to land on the moon and launched on July 26, 1971, and the astronauts returned to Earth on August 7. Find out more about Apollo 16 here.

Lunar Satellite Reveals Apollo 16 Remains


NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) made a low pass over the Apollo 16 site last fall, capturing images of the leftovers from John Young and Charlie Duke’s 1972 exploration of the Descartes Highlands. The video above takes us on a tour of the Apollo 16 site from lunar orbit, and includes audio from the original communications and some very nice comparative photos and video clips showing the same features from ground level.

The goal of Apollo 16 was to explore for the first time a lunar highlands location, and collect samples of what were initially thought to be volcanic rocks. The rocks were believed to be of a different material than what was collected during previous missions.

As it turned out, the rocks collected by Duke and Young weren’t volcanic in origin at all; they ended up being breccias — cemented-together chunks ejected from ancient cratering events hundreds of miles away.

Apollo 16 also set up various experiment packages to study lunar geology, magnetism and the solar wind. The Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) allowed Young and Duke to travel across a much wider area than they would have otherwise been able to on foot. It was the second mission to use an LRV, and the rover — as well as its tracks — are still there today, looking exactly as they did when they were left 40 years ago.

[/caption]

The Apollo 16 ascent stage lifted off from the lunar surface on the evening of April 23, 1972 and docked with the Command Module containing Ken Mattingly. The following day the astronauts began their trip back to Earth, completing the 250,000-mile traverse three days later on April 27.

The Moon would be visited again in December of that same year during Apollo 17, the last mission of the program and the last time that humans would walk on the surface of another world. Now, 40 years later, satellites orbiting the Moon take pictures of what was left behind by these historic events. Perhaps someday soon the sites will be visited from ground level… maybe even by a new generation of astronauts.

Panorama of the Descartes Highlands site made from 3 Hasselblad film image scans combined together. (NASA/JSC/J. Major)

Read more about this on Arizona State University’s LROC site, and explore the full-frame Narrow-Angle Camera image from the LROC here.

Video: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The Family that Went to the Moon

[/caption]

Well, the family photo, anyway.

On April 23, 1972, Apollo 16 astronauts Charlie Duke and John Young embarked on the third and final EVA of the mission, exploring the Descartes Highlands via Lunar Roving Vehicle. During the EVA, before setting up a Solar Wind Collector, Duke placed a small family photo he had brought along onto the lunar surface and snapped a few photos of  it with his Hasselblad film camera. This is one of the photos.

The portrait shows Charlie, his wife Dorothy, and their two sons Charles and Thomas. It looks like they are sitting on a bench in the summertime.

The family photo, gingerly wrapped in clear plastic and slightly crumpled from being stashed in the pocket of a space suit, was left on the Moon. It presumably still sits there today, just inches away from Charlie’s boot print — which, presumably, is also there.

The Duke family photo.

At the time of this writing it’s been exactly 40 years to the day that this photo was taken.

Image: NASA/JSC scan

I came across this image while looking through the Project Apollo Image Archive for some relevant images from the Apollo 16 mission. Amid scans of Hasselblad photos showing lunar samples, experiments and scenes from LRV jaunts, which are all fascinating in their own right, I came across this poignant image and couldn’t resist sharing it. To know that a family photo is resting upon the surface of another world is nothing short of amazing… while the missions to the Moon were a testament to human endeavor, it’s small things like this that remind us of the people that made it all possible.