If I Touched the Moon, What Would It Feel Like?


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Twelve people have walked on the moon since humans landed there 50 years ago, but no one has ever directly touched its surface.

Those astronauts wore spacesuits outside the lander. No one ever took off a glove or a boot while standing on the moon.

“Once we got inside and took off our suits and gloves, we did have some lunar dust on the floor, and rocks that were not bagged,” Apollo astronaut Charlie Duke, who walked on the moon in 1972, called to tell me. “On the way home, I collected the rocks floating around the spacecraft. One would come floating by, and I just picked it up and put it in my garment pocket. When I got back, I stuck them in a little jar that was about the size of a prescription bottle, and then I turned them back in to NASA.”

It definitely wouldn’t be comfortable. In 1960, during a high-altitude balloon test, Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger’s pressure glove sprang a leak, exposing his right hand to near-vacuum conditions for several hours. His hand swelled up and went numb, but he suffered no permanent damage.

That’s how the vacuum would feel. What about the moon? Is it hot or cold?

It depends on where you’re standing. On Earth, the hottest sun-baked rocks might reach 170 degrees Fahrenheit, but on the moon — where the sun stays visible for weeks at a time, it never gets cloudy, and there’s no breeze to carry away the heat — it gets even hotter.

“There’s only one time I remember feeling the heat from the lunar surface,” Mr. Duke said. The crew had left a metal frame, part of an experiment, in direct sunlight for a couple of days. “When I picked it up, I could feel the heat from that aluminum frame through my gloves. It wasn’t enough to, uh, to be worried about; you just thought, ‘This thing’s really hot.’”



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