Beyond the usual travel essentials, any keepsakes, charms and totems we take with us on our journeys say a lot about our inner worlds. The faithful may carry a crucifix, a rosary or the Qur’an; superstitious sailors still carry amulets to ensure a “smooth voyage”; soldiers treasure pictures of their sweethearts. Before photography they would carry a lock of their loved one’s hair.
When the two crew members of the SpaceX Falcon 9 set off on their historic space journey last week, their totem was a toy dinosaur, taken on the behest of their sons. During the Apollo missions to the moon, the personal items astronauts could take were restricted: each had just a small “personal allowance pouch”.
Unsurprisingly, many chose to take family photographs, though uniquely, on the Apollo 16 mission in 1972, Charles Duke opted to leave his snaps behind on the moon’s surface with a handwritten message for posterity, unaware that solar radiation would eventually bleach him and his family out of existence.
When Apollo 11’s Eagle lunar module landed on the moon on 20 July 1969, devout Christian Buzz Aldrin had with him a miniature chalice, wine and bread. Shortly before Neil Armstrong stepped out on to the lunar landscape – and unreported by Nasa – Aldrin requested a moment’s silence and read from the book of John. The first time liquid was poured on the moon was in an act of communion.
On the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, Alan Shepard managed to persuade Nasa to let him take a golf club and balls. While he fluffed the first shot, the second may well have been the longest drive in history, thanks to the reduced gravity.
Most surprising, perhaps, is a tiny ceramic “wafer” (2cm by 1.3cm) containing six pieces of art transported illicitly on Apollo 12’s lunar module. The work, called Moon Museum, was created by a New York artist, Forrest Myers, who bribed an engineer friend to secrete the item inside one of the lunar module’s legs. It included work by himself and five others – including Andy Warhol, whose image was a neatly doodled penis. As the module remained on the surface, so too does the moon’s first art gallery.
When Voyager 1 and 2 set off on their respective journeys deep into the cosmos in 1977, carefully chosen sounds, music and images were left inside. The objects, images and recordings on these twin spacecraft may one day inform other life forms about the ecology, history and culture of our planet.
While the totemic objects taken to the moon were deeply personal, their symbolism remains universal, speaking of our need for love, family, art, sex and faith – and our drive for immortality. As for the golf club and dick doodle? Well, they were just men after all.