March 15, 2011

Happy Birthday, Alan Bean

An astronaut who dared to “litter” on the moon?

Born in Texas on this day in 1932, Alan Bean grew up to be an astronaut who flew with the Apollo program and became the fourth person to walk on the moon.

Bean took a silver astronaut pin that had been given to him by NASA and threw it into a crater near the landing spot of the lunar lander. He likes to think of it now as he looks up at the moon.

While on the Apollo 12 moon walk, Bean and his fellow astronaut Pete Conrad wanted to use a self-timer to take a photograph of the two of them together. Apparently they were hoping to confuse people back home—wait, who took that picture?—but the two couldn't find the self-timer in the carrier tote bag, and so they lost the opportunity. At the very end of the lunar walk, when it was too late, Bean found the self-timer and, according to Wikipedia, “threw it as hard as he could.” 

As a woman with a purse, I can totally relate to Bean's frustration.

Apollo astronauts have left a fair number of items on the moon, deliberately, including mirrors that can bounce back lasers to Earth scientists. This website has a list of 85 items left on the moon, including many multiple items—and even that list isn't complete, because it doesn't list the golf balls hit by Alan Shepard,  Bean's silver pin, nor (as far as I can tell) the self-timer.

Wikipedia has a list of the larger human-made items that have crashed onto or landed on the moon—about 170,000 kg of stuff! 

What do you think about the fact that so many items have been left on the surface of the moon? Will these items be the treasured discoveries of future historians? Will they be enshrined in future lunar museums?

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