Dinosaur toys and golf clubs: The strange things astronauts take to the moon

THE GUARDIAN – 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 carry Al-Quran; 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.

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. 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 and faith – and our drive for immortality. As for the golf club? Well, they were just men after all.