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I was looking at pictures of land rovers left on the moon (footage and what not). Then I visited this wiki page to see what derelict equipment is on the moon (just sitting around).

Which then raises the question:

Provided you have time and some understanding of electronics and mechanical devices. Is there enough material on the moon construct 'something useful' to either:

  • Get help?
  • Get off the moon and get back to earth? (more unlikely).

Space Junk

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    $\begingroup$ Off the top of my head, there's not nearly enough fuel in any of the landers. As for communicating with Earth, the Chinese Chang'e 3 lander would probably be your best bet, just because it's the most recent. $\endgroup$ – Keith Thompson Dec 8 '14 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ You could probably move around a LLRE retroreflector and make a few astronomers doing lunar ranging scratch their heads until they realize you're putting it back in intervals that correspond to your Morse code distress message. :) $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Dec 8 '14 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ Slightly offtopic: If you want a pretty realistic story about a similar (though not identical) situation, I highly recommend the novel The Martian, by Andy Weir. Definite Hugo candidate; his conceit of making it the logbook of a man abandoned on Mars gives him the justification he needs for doing all the infodumps about what would be involved to make each stage of the self-rescue work while keeping it engaging. The biggest critique I've got is that the hero is a bit too good at a few too many things. $\endgroup$ – keshlam Dec 9 '14 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ Most of the answers here just seem to assume you get to pick the exact location you're going to be stranded at... The moon is huge and there are very few human artifacts on the surface. From any given point on the moon, it's almost certain you are going to have to travel hundreds or thousands of kilometers to find anything, even if you have perfect navigation instruments that tell you where to go. $\endgroup$ – JohannesD Dec 10 '14 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ OP and @keshlam. I second the recommendation of the novel "The Martian". Highly engaging and almost an answer to your question, except for it being staged on Mars rather than the Moon. $\endgroup$ – Vaibhav Garg Dec 11 '14 at 10:32
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Leave? No. By now, any residual fuel in various landers will have leaked off, and nothing has the sort of chemistry capability to produce fuel from lunar materials.

Get help? Maybe. Most of the landers still have working radios with radiation-hardened circuitry; it's just a matter of powering them up. Your best bet for this is probably the Lunar Rover radios: those were designed to be powered from an external source, so it's just a matter of finding a 36-volt power supply. Batteries aren't an option because virtually everyone used silver oxide batteries that fully self-discharge in less than 20 years.

My first choice resource-wise would be the Apollo 12 landing site. You've got three choices for radio: Surveyor 3's radio and directional antenna, the LM descent stage's parabolic high-gain antenna, or the ALSEP controller's radio and directional antenna. You can try to use either Surveyor's solar panels or the ALSEP radiothermal generator for power if you don't have your own supply. And as a last resort, you can trace out an SOS in the regolith and hope that, as one of the better-known parts of the Moon, somebody's orbiter will spot you during a survey.

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    $\begingroup$ SOS in the regolith near a landmark: that is the best 'solution' that I've seen on this page yet! $\endgroup$ – dotancohen Dec 8 '14 at 23:51
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    $\begingroup$ SOS in the regolith as big as you can make it, and kick over the laser ranging retroreflector. That will get them to point an orbiter at it... within a few weeks. Won't do you any good though, because even if someone got your message, they would have no way to send help in time. $\endgroup$ – Rikki-Tikki-Tavi Dec 9 '14 at 0:45
  • $\begingroup$ I would definitely do this first. And have any reflective bit I could find flapping reflected light all over the place (because I am pretty sure I wouldn't know what direction to wave at except straight up). $\endgroup$ – Frank Tudor Dec 9 '14 at 2:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Rikki-Tikki-Tavi I think you could have left the "in time" off of "even if someone got your message, they would have no way to send help in time." and it would still be true. If the stranded astronaut had the time and desire, I suppose he/she could trace out a will in the regolith.. $\endgroup$ – Kirkaiya Dec 10 '14 at 23:34
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    $\begingroup$ A radiation hardened radio circuit is not immune against decades under harsh conditions. Many temperature cycles from very cold to very hot may destroy electronics. There are many connections within the circuit, if one fails, the circuit would not work. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Sep 25 '17 at 17:28
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No.

Without even considering consumables such as food or oxygen, there is nothing on the moon to regulate human body temperature or to allow one to dispose of the waste that would accumulate in your space suit if you did have something to eat or breathe. More directly addressing the question, none of the 'junk' on the moon has any method of propelling itself off the moon.

Even if you could get off the moon, you have no way of escaping lunar orbit.

Even if you could escape lunar orbit, you have no way of navigating to Earth.

Even if you could navigate to Earth, you have no way of surviving reentry.

Even if you could survive reentry, you have no way of landing.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm betting McGyver could figure something out! ;-) $\endgroup$ – Kirkaiya Dec 8 '14 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ You don't need to solve the last two points if you manage to get onto the ISS ^^ $\endgroup$ – PlasmaHH Dec 8 '14 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ @dotancohen My experience with space travel is from this 1986 Spectrum Holobyte simulator game: mobygames.com/game/dos/orbiter ...it was amusing and I remember being confused by everything. So escaping the moon's gravity, breaking orbit, navigating space, and reentering earth's atmosphere would be impossible even with some sort of make-shift functional spacecraft and fuel. How about if I could just do the first two? and a rescue team doing the navigating back and reentry. Surely someone would come meet me half-way? $\endgroup$ – Frank Tudor Dec 9 '14 at 2:21
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    $\begingroup$ @FrankTudor "meet me half way" means one of you need to effectively reverse the direction of your transfer orbit in relation to the system. If you are both TL but moving in opposite directions, naiive math says that means applying a delta-v of on the order of 20 km/s. Short of a deorbit burn (eventually bringing your ground-relative velocity to 0), I believe the Apollo LM/CSM, space shuttle, ... were capable a few hundred m/s delta-v. With some orbital mechanics trickery up your sleeve, I suppose you could reduce the dv, but that's not back-of-the-envelope calculations let alone executing it. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Dec 9 '14 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling: I think it was here on space.SE that I've seen it referred to as lithobraking. $\endgroup$ – dotancohen Dec 9 '14 at 15:13
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If you are on a random point of the moon's surface, facing the earth, in the mid-latitudes, and your ascent stage goes boom while you are walkabout, you are going to die. Period.

Lets assume there is a fully-functional Space-1999 level lunar facility at another point on the moon. How will you navigate there? No GPS, and the landscape is rather featureless. Transportation? Walking won't get you very far, the rovers were good for maybe 50km. Your suit won't sustain you for more than one day, and that's only if you don't exert yourself doing things like walking.

Any kind of space travel requires substantial advance planning, deviations from the plan by more than a tiny amount never end well, and the whole process is absolutely unforgiving of error. There is simply no way you could remain alive, even with the most advanced technology available today, long enough for someone else to come and get you.

NASA fully expected to lose one of the Apollo crews, and estimated the Shuttle would fail once in 200 missions (0.5%). They were right in both cases, and everyone onboard accepted it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would essentially be stranded on an island directional dead reckoning would be difficult. But if I have sometime before I expire I would by my nature want to 'do something' (I would want my remains to return to earth). $\endgroup$ – Frank Tudor Dec 9 '14 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @FrankTudor The probability that someone would come pick up your remains, even if you managed to make your wish clear to an observer on Earth, are exceedingly small. The cost of going to the Moon and back are simply far too large. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Dec 9 '14 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Depending on the mood and the moment of human beings (of you and me) cost may not be a factor. Possibilities always change under these unusual (sometimes unmeasurable) variables. $\endgroup$ – Frank Tudor Dec 9 '14 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ Listening to Cmdr. Chris Hadfield talk about preparation this seems pretty spot on. Typically they're concerned with what actions will increase odds of survival. Then they practice and drill so when X happens they know that Y will give them the greatest chance of not being dead. $\endgroup$ – Wayne Werner Dec 9 '14 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @FrankTudor we don't recover dead bodies from Mt. Everest - there's well over 100 corpses up there, some are even landmarks (like Greenboots, who has his own Wikipedia page). So if you die on the moon you are going to be there for a rather long time. $\endgroup$ – paul Dec 13 '14 at 14:52
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I think the biggest issue would be fuel. Trips to the Moon were very carefully calculated: they brought just enough fuel to make the trip. The amount of residual fuel left behind in any of the landers remaining on the surface is minimal. It was minimal the day they landed. In the 40+ years since then there has surely been some leakage, and probably chemical deterioration. Even if you somehow could visit all the vehicles on the surface and collect all their fuel ... well, I'm too lazy to do the research for a casual post like this, but I doubt it would be enough to get an adult human off the surface and escape from lunar orbit.

Then there's the fact that none of the vehicles left on the Moon was built to take off. These are LANDERS, intended for one-way trips. Could they be modified into launch vehicles with sufficient time and effort? Maybe. I guess that's less impossible than finding fuel.

You could speculate about what a sufficiently ingenious person could do. Like Kirkaiya says, maybe a McGyver could figure out something brilliant. Could you somehow build a machine that would produce fuel from lunar resources using parts from various landers? I can't say that it's impossible, but it would be very, very difficult. Heck, would you even know how to start? If the hypothetical stranded person was an engineer who designed fuel refining equipment back on Earth, maybe he could. But most people, even most highly intelligent people, would likely have no idea how to go about building a fuel refining machine. I think I'm pretty clever and I have no idea. And people who do know would probably have no idea how to identify the type of rocks that include the appropriate raw materials, and vice versa. Modern technology is built on the work of many, many specialists, each contributing their own little piece to the complete system.

And if you are going to combine parts from multiple landers, how will you travel between them? Are we assuming you have a vehicle that can travel hundreds of miles across the lunar surface before you run out of air, food, and other supplies? If we're assuming you're on foot in a spacesuit with a few hours or even a few days of air, forget it, I think you're doomed.

Finding a working or repairable radio so you can call for help seems a lot more promising. Even without a radio, a clever person might come up with some way to send a message -- writing SOS in big letters with some available material, maybe using a small amount of fuel to send up a signal flare, using a mirror to flash light, etc. Most of these would require knowing when someone will be looking in your direction.

But even if you could signal for help, then what? Unless the folks back on Earth just happen to have a moon-rocket sitting around -- didn't I leave one in the garage last fall? -- how are they going to rescue you? By the time they built a rocket, launched it, and reached you, you are probably long dead.

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There is a fuel source: the lunar regolith. There is power to crack it: solar panels. But where are you going to get a manufacturing plant and where are you going to get enough food and water (let alone oxygen) to wait for that trickle of power to ever produce enough fuel?

No indeed. You cannot get off. Most of what you need is present, but you will die of biological needs long before you can make of it what you need to get off the surface.

So you would want to communicate. If we presume the most favorable conditions, that you are within walking distance of enough serviceable parts, you might be able to get a message to earth. But it took us nine years to get to the moon last time, and so much of the solution is lost. We don't have a big enough booster as ready-to-build plans right now. To get a lander + lifter + mercury style pod would be a multi-year and multi-billion dollar effort. It would be reasonable to assume most of that nine years again. Same problem. Biological needs kill you long before they pick you up.

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  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't appear to address the primary question, which is whether communication is possible. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Tuggy Sep 9 '15 at 2:11
  • $\begingroup$ We've already established that Get Help isn't going to happen. They're not coming for you. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Sep 9 '15 at 2:15
  • $\begingroup$ None of the other answers or question comments make this point so abundantly clear that the question no longer contains it; therefore, your answer, which must stand alone, should address it, at least in passing. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Tuggy Sep 9 '15 at 2:18

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