Update: The accepted answer and its comments contain good references to equipment retrieval. I have separated off-Earth examination and photography into a new question: Has a lander/rover ever examined or photographed another mission?

See also What are the long term effects of Space Weathering on man-made materials?

Two years after Surveyor 3 landed on the moon, Apollo 12 landed at the same site. The astronauts made observations of Surveyor, took photographs, and brought back parts for analysis on Earth. This helped us understand how equipment can be affected by exposure to the moon's environment.

However, this represented only 2 years of lunar exposure. Have there been any such observations of lunar equipment over a much longer term?

For the purposes of this question:

  • "long term" means a minimum of 10 years exposure to the lunar environment, before being observed. Note that we've been putting equipment on the moon for almost 60 years.
  • "equipment" is any man-made object left on the moon, whether for an unmanned or manned mission.
  • "observation" can be interpreted as broadly as you need, as long as it gives us information about the effects of exposure to the lunar environment.
  • Orbital imaging is specifically excluded. It is enough to tell us that the equipment is still there and whether it has moved, but does not have enough resolution to show damage/degradation to equipment.
  • Outside of Apollo, I'm not aware of any missions that returned equipment from the moon; but that would hypothetically count for this question.
  • I'm not aware of a lunar mission that could photograph itself after 10 years; but that would hypothetically count for this question.
  • Surveyor 3 / Apollo 12 is specifically excluded, as the exposure was only 2 years.

edit: Although a retrieval mission would give us the most information, a lander or rover mission taking pictures of a nearby older mission should also be considered. I appreciate the answers and comments about studying effects in Earth orbit, but that wouldn't address the effects of moon dust, which was a big concern during the Apollo program.

  • $\begingroup$ One way to get the ball rolling is to include links to questions or answers about specific effects (e.g. dust, huge "daily" thermal cycles, etc.) which would allow people to read about them or even locate some resources, or if you don't find enough material on the site already, to ask a question about various factors that the Apollo program had identified, and even to ask (possibly separately) if there were any effects that had been postulated post-Apollo. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 16, 2018 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ Having two or three questions linked together also broadens the pool of people posting answers as well as broadens the resulting knowledge-base for future readers. Just a thought. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 16, 2018 at 12:44

1 Answer 1



The only missions that returned physical objects from the Moon were the Apollo missions (with only one chance to observe older equipment: Surveyor 3) and some Luna sample return missions (which returned much sooner than 10 years).

There have been, however, lots of exposure experiments in Earth orbit, which would give very similar results. Some of the earliest satellites carried exposure experiments.

The Long Duration Exposure Facility was a large Shuttle payload that orbited from 1984 to 1990.

  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget the Hubble Space Telescope, where some instruments were returned to Earth after having been used for a long period of time. $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Sep 15, 2018 at 12:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's important to be careful about "lots of exposure experiments in Earth orbit, which would give very similar results." Only surfaces in LEO that were actively pointed away from, therefore not shielded by Earth would be well-exposed to damage by micrometeorites from space, but their speed would be modified by Earth's gravity, and you'd have to separate out the effects of small debris in Earth orbit from that of space. Also damage to solar wind (protons, electrons, etc) in LEO is substantially reduced due to the Earth's magnetic field so "very similar results" might require some caveating. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 15, 2018 at 23:17

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