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The Sciences

From Legos to Human Feces, Here Are the 7 Strangest Things Left in Space

Astronauts can leave things behind unintentionally, but there are also other objects we purposely have sent into space.

By Cody CottierMay 6, 2024 8:00 AM
Lego figurine in space on the moon
(Credit: Frode Koppang/Shutterstock)


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In the seven decades since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, humankind has sent a whole lot of material over the Kármán line. Not all of it came back.

Like spacefaring litterbugs, we’ve scattered refuse far and wide across the cosmos. Our probes and their contents sail out of the solar system on one-way rides, or take up permanent residence in the orbit of distant planets. Miscellaneous items get dropped during spacewalks, released as symbolic gestures, or deliberately dumped for logistical reasons.

Jennifer Ross-Nazza, a human spaceflight historian at the Johnson Space Center, explained that leaving behind celestial garbage is sometimes imperative — on the Apollo missions, for example, the payload margins for getting back into orbit were slim.

“NASA instructed astronauts to leave items on the Moon to reduce weight on the trip home,” she says. “They couldn’t bring everything back.” Plus, they had to make room for the lunar rocks and soil they picked up for analysis on Earth.

In exchange for the extraterrestrial samples and astronomical data the universe provides us, we’ve offered an eclectic set of artifacts. From ashes to Legos, to mounds of human waste, these are some of the weirdest things humans have abandoned in space.

1. Human Feces

Yes, astronauts poop too. And every gram counts when you’re hurtling through space in a delicate aluminum box (not to mention the cramped living quarters), so they dispose of extra weight however they can.

During the six Apollo missions that landed on the Moon, astronauts filled 96 bags. Whenever the astronauts emerged from their spacecraft for so-called “extravehicular activities,” they hauled out their trash and left it on the surface. Some scientists have even pondered whether the microbes in their waste could survive in those conditions — perhaps even to the present day.

In the lunar junkyard, Manure Mountain is actually just the beginning: The jettison list also includes two hammocks, five American flags, and an array of equipment that had fulfilled its duty. All of it lies waiting, undisturbed in a land without weather, for the extraterrestrial archaeologists of the future.

2. Sounds from Human Life — Golden Records

Somewhere on the dark outskirts of the solar system, Voyager 1 and 2 are bearing the essence of humanity out into the universe. Each spacecraft carries a gold-plated phonograph record containing sights and sounds from Earth — an effort (led by astronomer Carl Sagan) to convey some small slice of our life and culture to whatever aliens happen to stumble upon it.

The discs are, in NASA’s words, “a kind of time capsule, intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials.”

They include the sounds of babies crying, waves breaking on shore, music by artists as varied as Mozart and Chuck Berry, and of human greetings in 55 languages. They also include 155 images, documenting everything from city traffic and mothers breastfeeding to a diagram of continental drift.

The Voyager probes blew past Pluto more than 30 years ago, but it will be another 40,000 years before they reach the nearest planetary system. And Sagan himself noted that they may never be intercepted by another intelligent civilization.

“But,” as he put it at the time, “the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet."

3. The Moon Museum

The Golden Records aren’t the only testament to human creativity in space — a thumb-sized ceramic wafer, with etched drawings by Andy Warhol and five other prominent artists of the era, was smuggled to the Moon aboard Apollo 12 and left on the lunar surface.

It’s a conspiracy of Looney-Tunes proportions: American sculptor Forrest “Frosty” Myers worked with scientists at Bell Laboratories to create some 20 editions of the tile, persuaded an engineer to “covertly attach” one to a leg of the spacecraft, then distributed the rest to people involved in the project.

One of them is on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Four of its drawings are abstract, one appears to be a stick-figure mouse, and Warhol contributed his initials — which, as the Met notes, “read as a crude phallic rocket ship.”

Read More: Scientists Sound Alarm Over Growing Amount of Junk in Space

4. LEGOs in Space

For the past eight years, an odd tribute has been circling our solar system’s largest planet: three LEGO figurines representing the Roman god Jupiter (whose Greek equivalent is Zeus), his wife Juno, and Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei.

They hitched a ride aboard the Juno space probe, which began orbiting Jupiter in July 2016, as part of NASA’s long-standing partnership with the building-block company. When the mission launched in 2011, principal investigator Scott Bolton said he hoped the toys would “increase awareness of children about the space program and get them interested.”

The trio — two mythological figures and a scientist of near-mythological proportions — will spend one more year in orbit before being intentionally plunged into the gas giant’s atmosphere in 2025.

5. Gene Roddenberry’s Ashes

Earlier this year, after a series of aborted attempts, a portion of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s ashes finally reached the cosmos. For a man who did more than almost anyone to bring a bit of space to us Earthlings, it seemed only fitting that a bit of him should drift eternally in the void that so enthralled his audience.

It wasn’t the first out-of-this-world adventure for his mortal remains. The year after his death in 1991, and then again in 1997, some of his ashes were flown into orbit, but they were returned to Earth in the first case and disintegrated in the atmosphere in the second.

By the early 2000s, plans were underway to propel Roddenberry’s cremated form into deep space, from whence it would never return. But they only came to fruition in January 2024, when some of his ashes (along with those of Star Trek actor James Doohan), passed beyond the Earth-Moon system and into the unknown — stars resting among the stars.

Read More: What Is Space Junk And Why Is It A Problem?

6. Golf Balls on a Space Journey

The Apollo program wasn’t all business. When Alan Shepard landed on the Moon in 1971, he saw a boundless, if unkempt, golf course. During his spare time, he fashioned a makeshift club from an actual six-iron head and a sample-collection tool. A video from one of their moonwalks captures him teeing up “a little white pellet that’s familiar to millions of Americans.”

From within his clunky spacesuit he sent two of them flying, leaving tiny divots in a vast landscape of craters.

“Got more dirt than ball,” he remarks after the first shot. He seemed to believe that the second, in the absence of gravity, would go on a journey like no golf ball has ever experienced: “Miles and miles and miles,” he said in the video.

In 2021, however, an imaging specialist determined that the balls traveled just 24 and 40 yards respectively. Whatever Shepard’s merit as an astronaut, he was no Tiger Woods.

7. A Floating Spatula

In 2006, during a spacewalk outside the Discovery shuttle, British-American astronaut Piers Sellers was testing a new method for repairing the craft’s heat shields. To smear the protective goo, he used a standard-issue kitchen spatula.

When he returned to the craft, everything was accounted for but one item — observers promptly named it “spatsat.” Though floating junk can pose a safety hazard or damage expensive satellites, this mishap seems to have been minor.

Astronauts don’t often drop things, but Sellers is in good company. Ed White, the first American spacewalker, lost a glove. And maybe, just maybe, the two objects will one day find each other in low Earth orbit, ready to flip some cosmic flapjacks.

Read More: Here Are 4 Reasons Why We Are Still Going to the Moon

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Cody Cottier is a contributing writer at Discover who loves exploring big questions about the universe and our home planet, the nature of consciousness, the ethical implications of science and more. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and media production from Washington State University.

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