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And how the heck would an astronaut have opened it with his gloves on? Is that bag likely to still be there in good condition, or would it have been broken down by radiation by now? Was it normal to just toss stuff that is no longer needed?

Upper right corner:

from http://www.physics.ucsd.edu/~tmurphy/apollo/lrrr.html

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up vote 24 down vote accepted

That's not a Ziploc bag, but the retroreflector's dust cover. Here is a larger image of it removed:

   enter image description here

And here's an image with the cover still attached to the retroreflector:

   enter image description here

The clue is in the use of the red markings along the edges of the part in question, in spaceflight commonly used to indicate parts that need to be removed before use.

Both images from Wikipedia on Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package, credit NASA History Office's Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.


I wasn't able to find what the covers were made out of, but they appear to be clear PVC (Polyvinyl chloride). PVC doesn't do terribly well in space and exposure to UV radiation, thermal cycling and sputtering due to exposure to high energy radiation. Cover's current state is of course unknown, but it's a safe bet that it is by now nothing more than a thin layer of dust covered by more lunar surface dust moved around by photocharging, bombardment by hard and particle radiation,...

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To answer the last part of your question: yes, it was normal to throw away stuff that was no longer needed. On Apollo 11 alone, the astronauts left behind more than 100 items, including

four urine containers, several airsickness bags, a Hasselblad camera, lunar overshoes and a complete moon-landing step.

The astronauts left behind as much as possible, to save weight on the return trip. The Apollo spacecraft were on a very tight weight budget, and they had to allow for the ~ 380 kg of Moon samples they'd bring back over 6 mission.

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1  
Yeah, I knew they would leave as much weight behind as possible. For some reason, I always assumed that it would have been neatly stowed in the LM's descent stage though, not just strewn about on the surface. – Dan Ross Mar 18 at 14:32
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"several airsickness bags" I hope they enjoyed the trip! Even without air. It wasn't tourism. – LocalFluff Mar 18 at 15:12
    
There was also that pesky little descent stage they left behind... :) – Jacob Krall Mar 18 at 17:43
    
@DanRoss: There was no particular reason for the descent stage to have room to neatly stow discarded items. – Keith Thompson Mar 19 at 22:54
    
The astronauts were working against the clock, discarding stuff instead of neatly stowing it saved some time, I imagine. And the reason we don't litter on Earth (or shouldn't) is to avoid poisoning the environment. With no environment except dead rock, that reason is void. – Hobbes Mar 20 at 10:32

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