Talking Shit

If you don't know copropower, you don't know shit

Apollo's Lunar Lavatory

More than 50 years after the last manned mission to the Moon, scientific curiosity has again turned to the contents of its barren surface. But this time it is not native material which has piqued our interest but rather the remains of previous expeditions. Yes, that’s right, we left a lot of shit on the moon.

96 bags, to be precise, filled with the faeces, vomit and urine of the 12 astronauts who walked on the Moon’s surface between 1969 and 1972. That they remain on the surface should perhaps come as no surprise considering the delicate rigours of space travel. Every gram matters and the collection of samples was a priority so, naturally, they left that which was of no interest to them.

Ironically, astrobiologists are now keen to get their hands on the samples, which could contain important insights about the survival of microbial life in space and the long-term effects of the Moon's brutal surface conditions. Thankfully for NASA, under the terms of the (charmingly named) Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the Lunar landing site is a recognised heritage site and the bags of shit therefore ‘artefacts’ and officially the property of the United States. With the days of government-led space exploration drawing to a close however, there’s a distinct possibility that the retrieval of these samples will take the form of SpaceX selling NASA back its own shit.

Looking ahead, Lunar sewage may become an important consideration. Though the impact of human activity on the Moon to date has been negligible, the prospect of a permanent colony also raises the question of how such a colony would handle its own shit. One of the promises of space exploration is always that it also drives the development of technologies with terrestrial applications. It may be that the Moon is the perfect place to develop radical new ways to reclaim and repurpose our excrement in an environment where resources are incredibly scarce.

For proponents of NASA’s plans for extraterrestrial colonisation, the prospect of a permanent Lunar foothold is closer than ever before. In the meantime, they can console themselves that, though we may not yet have a Lunar outpost, we can at least lay claim to having created the first Lunar outhouse.