The First Photograph Taken on the Moon by Neil Armstrong Featured a Trash Bag

The First Photograph Taken on the Moon by Neil Armstrong Featured a Trash Bag

The cost was 107 billion dollars for a giant leap for mankind but a trashy subject and framing for the first picture taken on the surface of the moon.

Unless you think the Earth is flat or that the Apollo images were recorded in a warehouse by Stanley Kubrick or the CIA, the lunar program, Apollo, was one of the greatest achievements in history. However, the first picture taken by Commander Neil Armstrong at the surface of the moon featured a “jettison bag” full of human waste and other unnecessary things. Weight control was critical on the small Lunar Module and any waste had to be discarded before starting the ascent back to the Command Module orbiting around the moon. Removing the jettison bag from the tiny cabin was one of the first items on the checklist before beginning the single extra-vehicular activity of the mission.

The three-foot long "Jett bag" kicked out of view underneath the lunar module. Note the nozzle of the engine from the descent stage (this part is still on the moon today).

Buzz Aldrin next to the Lunar Module.

It’s unclear why Neil Armstrong caught the garbage bag on his Hasselblad camera, but it might have been a test picture of some sort. In any case, the mission commander quickly realized his artistic mishap and kicked the bag out of view under the Lunar Module. After a short 2.5-hour moonwalk, both astronauts came back onboard the module with 47 pounds of rock before taking off.

To be fair, the first picture taken on the surface of the moon was taken by the Soviet probe Luna 9 in 1966 after 11 unsuccessful attempts in the previous three years. The images were transmitted back to earth via an analog radio stream using a format identical to the internationally agreed Radiofax system used by newspapers for transmitting pictures.

First image captured on the surface of the moon by the Soviet robot Luna 9 in 1966, three years before the successful Apollo 11 mission in 1969.


All the iconic images of the astronauts from the Apollo 11 mission were taken by Neil Armstrong. Here, Buzz Aldrin stands next to the motionless US flag.

Another fun fact about the Apollo 11 mission is the absence of picture of Armstrong posing for the camera. Except for the low-quality ladder video, all the famous shots feature the second astronaut, Buzz Aldrin. Only a few images show the commander in the background. In fact, the trash bag appears in more pictures than Neil Armstrong.

Images courtesy of NASA, public domain.
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10 Comments

michael buehrle's picture

hope those CIA guys picked up after themselves after they were done filming.

Oliver Kmia's picture

I hope they did, the CIA always makes a mess when they go somewhere.

Carl Murray's picture

Pfft, you believe those conspiracy theories about the moon landing being faked? What a crock. Find the truth, the moon isn't even real!!! It was made up by FBI.

stephen gore's picture

Typical humans, landing on an unexplored planet, and the first thing they do is trash the place ;-)

Dave Thompson's picture

As a photographer for the last 10 years, but more importantly an Apollo buff, I can assure you that Neil did not take that photo of a trash bag as 1) a fluke, 2) a joke, or 3) some random shot to test his Hasselblad. In taking this photo,

Armstrong was performing a key mission objective: to ensure that the LM (lunar modular) had landed in a location that would allow the crew to fire the ascent engine, a useful inspection given that this engine had no backup.

This engine had never been fired in a mission, so there was some clear concern about how certain the crew could rely on it (as if they had a choice.)

Armstrong had just landed the Eagle a few hundred yards beyond where Houston had planned for him to touch down. That’s why no one was sure what was under the LM.

Oliver Kmia's picture

Hi Dave,
Always, good to have another Apollo buff here :)
I'm not sure to follow you here regarding the purpose of this first picture.
"In taking this photo, Armstrong was performing a key mission objective: to ensure that the LM (lunar modular) had landed in a location that would allow the crew to fire the ascent engine, a useful inspection given that this engine had no backup"
How did a picture of the LEM's leg help for that? That's the first picture in full here

https://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/AS11-40-5850.jpg

Fetching image ...

I genuinely interested since I couldn't find any info regarding the reason of this first shot. I don't understand the relation between the picture and ensuring that the ascent engine could be fired properly. The ascent engine was not visible at this point and the descent engine was useless (no more fuel).

"This engine had never been fired in a mission, so there was some clear concern about how certain the crew could rely on it (as if they had a choice.)"

An early version of the LEM was remotely tested on Apollo 5 in earth orbit. Both engines (ascent and descent stage) were fired successfully. Again, with a manned crew this time on the Apollo 9 mission in earth orbit and on Apollo 10 near the moon. So 3 times in total before Apollo 11.

"Armstrong had Judy landed a few hundred yards beyond where Houston had planned for him to land the Eagle. That’s why no one was sure what was under the LM."
Yes, Neil saw some big rocks last minute and picked a better landing site, landing very short on fuel. Do you suggest that the first picture was taken to show what was under the LEM for post mission debriefing?

Dave Thompson's picture

Thanks for the reply, Oliver, and I share your curiosity! And yes, that is exactly what I meant. When I referred tot he first use of the ascent engine, I meant in the far more hazard-prone environment of the surface. Yes they tested the engine on 5, 9 and 10. But all three were in fairly sterile, microgravity environments. Here's what I know from a conversation I had with Mission Director Gene Kranz a few years ago:

Armstrong was fairly confident that he had completely overflown the boulder field that the autopilot had Neil and Buzz headed towards. But Houston, with its usual skepticism of unsupervised astronauts, wanted to be sure that:

1.) There were no boulders directly under the ascent engine bell that might compromise its capability to lift the craft off the lunar surface, and

2.) That Neil did not land in an area with moon dust deeper than expected, potentially causing the landing gear of the Eagle to sink into the surface too deep. The concern was that the ascent engine might kick up dust or rocks that could obscure the view out the LM window (necessary to re-dock with Columbia), or damage any of the antennae or maneuvering retro rockets, or even worse, damage the tinfoil thin walls of the ascent half of the LM.

Armstrong was able to provide an eyewitness report in real time of these conditions, but NASA wanted photos for the debriefing, and to apply what they learned about landings and the behavior of the LM on the surface to future missions.

In typical Armstrong style, he accomplished these objectives in a single frame of the Hassleblad on his chest. In fact, I'd bet he was oblivious of the bag. His objective was to document the landing, so that's what he was doing. In typical Armstrong style. Successfully. With no fuss. Period.

One more point: I've never been sure what exactly was in the bag. Some have speculated that it might be Buzz's PPK, which reportedly contained some religious material that NASA did not want to make public, but that bag seems way too big for that.

Great discussion here! :)

DT

Shawk Parson's picture

the bag contained the astronauts' poop, didn't it? :D

Oliver Kmia's picture

I don't have that sort of detail but due to the short duration of the mission (less than a day on the moon), the astronauts probably didn't honored the moon of this type of gift. Plus they moonwalk happened relatively early in the mission so I don't think they had an urging matter. Urine probably...
However the last missions (Apollo 15,16 and 17) were relatively long with up to 3 days on the moon so they may have discarded more important waste ;).