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Shortly After The Apollo 11 Moon Landings, Scientists Fed Moon Dust To Cockroaches

They had a damn good reason.

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockJun 14 2022, 09:46 UTC
neil armstrong on the moon
Moon dust is more delicious than it sounds. Image credit: Digital Images Studio

If you've ever looked at a Moon rock and thought "yeah it's pretty cool, but I wish it had passed through a cockroach" then today is your lucky day. Up for bidding on New Hampshire’s Remarkable Rarities Auction is some dust that has been taken from the Moon and passed through the world's "most lovable" insects.

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first landed on the Moon in 1969, they bagged up an impressive amount of space rock for the return journey. The first men on the Moon brought 21.6 kilograms (47.6 pounds) of it back with them, including 50 rocks, samples of the lunar soil, and samples of the lunar soil from further below the surface. 

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The samples were transported for study back on Earth. Moon samples that aren't stolen in a wild heist are put to a number of scientific uses, including being fed to a cockroach to see what would happen. Associate professor of Entomology, Marion Brooks, was one of the scientists to get their hands on those first moon samples, as a special consultant to NASA's resident entomologist. Her project was to study the effects of consumption of the lunar soil on the insects. 

While it may seem a strange idea now given what we know about the lifelessness of the lunar surface, at the time there were a lot of unknowns. Upon their return, for instance, the crew of Apollo 11 spent 21 days in quarantine just in case they had returned from our satellite carrying dangerous microorganisms. 

Brooks' experiment was simply to take animals – including commercial oysters, pink shrimp, German cockroaches, and common house flies – and make them eat ground-up moon soil. One group of animals would consume sterilized moon dust ground up into their food, another unsterilized moon dust, and one unlucky control group didn't get to eat the moon at all.

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So, was there any effect? In short, no. The highest mortality rate was suffered by a group of small fish in the control group, who died after disinfectant was spilled into their tank. Following the experiment, slides of the animals' tissues were created, some of which will be on sale in the auction. Brooks, who had suspected there would be no organisms on the Moon, was surprised to find that the samples did no damage to the cockroaches' stomachs.

"We thought when the moon sample was ground up that there would be sharp, jagged edges," she said at the time. "But there were no signs of abrasion or scratches." 

Now you can buy some for yourself, safe in the knowledge that it won't hurt any insect tummies.


natureNaturenaturecreepy crawlies
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  • the moon,

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