During the Apollo missions, basically everything was left behind as soon as it was no longer needed. Of the approximately 45-48 tons that the CSM+LM weighed at launch, only 10% made it back to Earth. Most of this was the command module, which did not go to the surface of the Moon.

The sample bags obviously made it back, and the space suits of course as well (see also this answer - some were reused for training). And apparently, some bits and pieces came back, such as the items Neil Armstrong kept at home, but it seems that these were not supposed to come back per se.

Was there any equipment (other than the space suits and sample bags) that was used on the lunar surface that was deliberately brought back to Earth? If so, why was it brought back?

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the Neil Armstrong link, that was interesting. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Mar 29 '20 at 15:04

You can find what items were carried on each mission, and what was brought back, by reading the stowage lists. Each list is divided into six sections:

  • Section A is the items placed in the command module at launch. This includes items that may be worn by the astronauts.
  • Section B is the items placed in the lunar module at launch.
  • Section C are the items (including worn items) that were moved from the CM to the LM prior to lunar landing. Adding sections B and C tells you which items made it to the lunar surface.
  • Section D are the items that were remaining in the LM when it launched from the moon.
  • Section E is the reverse of section C: items that were moved from the LM to the CM. This is the section you are interested in.
  • Section F is the items that returned to Earth. F = A - C + E.

There are too many items to give a complete list here. However, some of the more interesting items are:

  • moon rocks and soil, inside sample containers, inside plastic decontamination bags
  • magazines of exposed film (still pictures and movies), inside plastic decontamination bags
  • four-track DSEA tape recorder
  • radiation dosimeters and other experiments (e.g. solar wind, Surveyor)
  • broken equipment (e.g. core sampling tube) by request of mission control for analysis
  • worn items (urine and fecal collection, bio sensors, LCVG, snoopy cap, pressure suit layer, torso-limb outer suit layer, helmet, gloves, wristwatch with watchband, sunglasses)
  • later missions (15-17) also brought back the spacesuit visor and oxygen purge system (but not the full PLSS) to use during the service module EVA
  • personal preference kits (the astronauts' personal items)
  • various checklists, data cards, maps, charts, and books
  • pens, pencils, markers, scissors, penlights, lens brushes
  • assorted bags and covers

They were brought back because they were either the scientific results of the mission, or would be needed (possibly in a contingency) by the astronauts on the return home.

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    $\begingroup$ I can't imagine using a pen that has been on the moon. It's just mind blowing! $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Mar 30 '20 at 0:40

The Soviet Union's Luna program also included sample returns from the Moon, most notably Luna 16 which was the first such mission to complete the sample return. As Wikipedia describes the sample return:

Finally, after 26 hours and 25 minutes on the lunar surface, at 07:43 UT on 21 September, the spacecraft's upper stage lifted off from the Moon. The lower stage of Luna 16 remained on the lunar surface and continued transmission of lunar temperature and radiation data. Three days later, on 24 September, after a direct ascent traverse with no mid-course corrections, the capsule, with its 101 grams of lunar soil, reentered Earth's atmosphere at a velocity of 11 kilometers per second. The capsule parachuted down 80 kilometers southeast of the town of Jezkazgan in Kazakhstan at 05:25 UT on 24 September 1970. Analysis of the dark basalt material indicated a close resemblance to soil recovered by the American Apollo 12 mission.

Thus the returned material included the sample, the capsule in which it was housed, and the parachute. The samples returned by this and subsequent Luna missions were much smaller than what was brought back by the Apollo missions, and the Luna craft were uncrewed, so the return inventory from these spacecraft was much less extensive than Apollo's.

Wikimedia published a stamp showing the returning capsule is depicted from a personal collection.

enter image description here Source: Scanned 600 dpi by User Matsievsky from personal collection

Although the Luna samples are very small by Apollo standards, they do provide an independent comparison with the Apollo ones.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Did not see that one coming, nice! $\endgroup$ – Ludo Mar 29 '20 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for adding completeness. Apollo sure was the biggest player, but not the only one and its easy for that to be overshadowing other achievements. $\endgroup$ – Criggie Mar 30 '20 at 0:36

There are some pieces of equipment that were brought back from the Moon by an Apollo mission although they had been placed there by a different mission. Apollo 12 landed at walking distance of Surveyor 3 landing site in order to retrieve some parts and return them to Earth for analysis.


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