Suppose the astronauts had died on the moon ...

They didn’t, thank goodness and one small step and giant leap and all that, but… Let’s suppose that they had died on the moon and we were unable to retrieve them until now.

I recently read that the flag on the moon is probably completely white now. What would likely be the condition of the remains of the astronauts be like by now? Let’s assume that one was still in his space suit outside the module, which would’ve run out of oxygen in a few days, and another was out of his spacesuit inside the module out of sunlight. Would they be mummified? Freeze dried? Recognizable?

Just curious.

My WAG is freeze dried. That or eaten by moon goblins.

My WAG is that due to the extremes from direct sunlight to shadow that the body would degrade outside, and while there was still atmosphere in the suit, which would take some time to completely leak out (same with internal temperature initially, due to the suits seals and insulation). So, my WAG is that body would go through some decomposition and disintegration before finally freeze drying whatever organics would be left, leaving essentially a skeleton with perhaps some organics still on the bones.

The body inside might fare a bit better, and perhaps would still be recognizable, though as a freeze dried mummy sort of recognition. I THINK the shelter of the space craft would be a better shield and would allow the body to decay somewhat, but degrade less.

I’m sure someone here can find some sort of NASA paper on this, though, as I’m sure they have something. In The Martin they posited that the main characters body would be basically there ‘forever’ and I think they mentioned that it would be mainly intact, but no idea if this is like the ‘wind’ that picks up the antenna or the magic relationship between NASA and the Chinese or like the more scientific parts of the book/movie. :stuck_out_tongue:

Probably something pretty horrid.

If they are in suits, the suits will probably retain pressure of some kind for quite a while. So they won’t see vacuum until the integrity of the suit fails. In the meantime they will see the wild variations in lunar temperature. Being in the LM will help temper the variations, but consider that day and nigh are two weeks each, so it will only delay the extremes a bit. So the corpses will remain moist until the suits fail, and they will be alternatively frozen and cooked for two weeks at a time. My WAG is that there will be enough time where the corpses would be wet and warm enough for significant decomposition to occur. The daytime heat will eventually degrade the rubber membrane responsible for keeping the suit pressurised, and at that point the remains would start to dry. Two weeks in vacuum in the lunar day will dessicate anything. Just what the integrity of the remains are will depend upon how soon the suit fails before the bacteria do their work.

Nija’ed :smiley:

Silly. No goblins there just vacuum worms…

For the record: The LM had no airlock so either both men would be outside or both would be inside.

But their in space suits. How do the worms crawl in and crawl out?

Maybe that’s why they died.

…or moon goblins

Damn, now that’s in my head, and I can’t remember if it was a tune, or a rhyme, or what, but that it was profound for me at some (third-grade?) age.

Help end my misery…

Worth (re)citing, William Safire’s masterpiece of its kind–a kind unique, one might add, written for Richard Nixon: In Event of Moon Disaster

As always, XKCD has uncovered other versions of that speech for the president’s use in other eventualities.

The Hearse Song (which I didn’t know was the title)
Didn’t even know until now it had a title.
ETA:Performed by Harley Poe

Would it have made a difference if there was a cliff or overhang nearby that cast a shadow even in the day? And an astronaut went into the shadow then just sat down and intentionally let the air bleed out of his suit?

Which one?

There are 6 of them. Every moon mission erected a US flag on the moon. The first one is laying down, it was too close to the lunar module and was knocked over by the blast when it took off. The later ones were placed farther away, so they are still upright. I believe the recent lunar orbiting satellite has sent back photos that show some of them.

Almost certainly all of them are bleached white and probably falling apart. Even the “newest” of them has been on the moon over 40 years, under unfiltered UV exposure from ample sunlight without any atmosphere to absorb it. Flags on earth fade under much gentler conditions in far less time. And they weren’t specially made flags or anything like that. They’re normal nylon flags of the sort you’d find at a store.

We have relatively recent images showing flag poles are still up and there’s probably some cloth hanging from some of them, but that’s it. That’s shocking enough on its own. The working assumption was that the flags would have long since disintegrated from the harsh conditions. They’re almost certainly tattered. Not enough resolution too see if the stars and stripes are visible, but it’s nigh impossible any color survived.

I am more interested in what Neil and Buzz might have done after finding that the LM was broken but they could still communicate with Earth. These guys were highly motivated, brave and resourceful, so I can’t see them just sitting down and giving up.

They would know that rescue was not possible, but I think that they would want to make whatever contribution they could before the end. I wonder if there was a preconceived protocol for that situation?

The draft speech “In Event of Moon Disaster” was in 1969 by Nixon aid William Safire, possibly at the direction of Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman:

It might have been influenced by the Martin Caiden book “Marooned”, originally written in 1964 but revised in 1968 to fit Apollo. In that novel Apollo astronauts were stranded in earth orbit while their oxygen slowly ran out. It was also a 1969 movie, released in November – after the July moon mission.

The speech was a political aide’s speculative view of a scenario. It was not vetted by NASA engineers or checked for technical feasibility. It clearly implies a “stranded alive on the lunar surface” situation.

In fact there was probably relatively little chance of this specific case happening. It was a risky mission and they could have died en route, as nearly happened in Apollo 13. They could have crashed into the moon, as nearly happened on Apollo 10. If they tried to land without landing radar (which temporarily failed on Apollo 14) they could have crashed into the moon and died or exceeded the descent rate for a successful staged abort, then crashed in the ascent stage and died. They could have been marooned in lunar orbit if the SPS engine had a complete gimbal motor failure (one gimbal motor became unstable on Apollo 16). They could have died on the moon due to a space suit failure. They could have died during lunar liftoff if all the pyros didn’t sever the ascent stage. However the chance of being alive on the moon, able to communicate yet unable to take off was probably quite low – if nothing else because the other failure modes were proportionately higher.

The Lunar Module ascent stage was designed with extreme simplicity, even at a significant performance cost. The propulsion system had no pumps or igniters. There were no fuel cells like failed on Apollo 13 – only batteries. Unlike the Service Module it used only pressurized gaseous oxygen, not cryogenic oxygen (which blew up on Apollo 13). The propulsion plumbing used double redundant valves. It had double redundant computers and could probably reach orbit without any computer whatsoever – that was a practiced contingency. The reaction control thrusters had a separate non-computerized analog electrical path, and separate contingency activation solenoids. The engine had no complex regenerative cooling, thereby greatly simplifying plumbing. The engine was not gimbaled like on the Service Module, just bolted in a fixed position.

Nominally the LM was supposed to land with a maximum tilt angle of +/- 12 degrees from local vertical. However under extreme conditions it could probably have lifted off if one leg became caught on a crater rim during landing and the entire vehicle was tilted sideways 70 degrees. This was studied in the 1966 paper “Apollo Lunar Module Landing Strategy” by Donald C. Cheatham.

Something could easily have gone fatally wrong during powered lunar descent or ascent. However it is unlikely those failure modes would have produced a “stranded alive on the lunar surface and able to communicate with earth” scenario – which is the sole scenario discussed in the William Safire speech. Rather those would have produced an immediate fatality, or a lingering helpless situation in space – neither of which were addressed by the Safire speech.

Some of the Apollo astronauts have been asked about this exact situation and they replied as you’d expect – they would keep working on the problem up to the last second of life. This would be with earth’s help, via telemetry and voice – unless someone stupidly cut off communications before then as suggested in the Safire speech.

I think the Uniform Flag Code mandates that we mount an expedition to the moon to dispose of the flag in a responsible and respectful manner. This issue should be made top priority during this campaign season.

Also, we should build a wall around the moon, and make the moon goblins pay for it!

Moderator Note

Let’s keep all of the political pot-shots out of GQ, please.