Astronauts leave special silicon disc on the moon
Oct. 17, 2016
by Mark Ollig

When Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin performed their extravehicular activity (EVA) on the surface of the moon July 20, 1969, they left more than footprints in the Sea of Tranquility.

Of course, we know about the US flag, and the metal plaque attached to the landing gear strut of the descent stage of the lunar module saying: “Here, men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

However, there’s something else special they left behind.

Just before closing out their surface EVA and returning to the lunar module, the following conversation took place between mission control in Houston, and the astronauts on the moon:

Mission control: “Can you – will you verify that the disk with messages was placed on the surface as planned, and also that the items listed in the flight plan – all of those listed there were jettisoned. Over.”

Lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin: “That’s – All that’s verified.”

And with that reminder, Aldrin unzipped his sleeve pocket, and removed a small, round silicon disc slightly larger than a 50-cent piece.

He then carefully placed the disc on the moon’s surface before climbing back up the ladder into the lunar module.

This special disc contains statements by four US Presidents, and messages of goodwill from 73 countries.

Each original message was reduced in size 200 times, before being etched onto the surface of the disc.

The reduced-sized image was then transferred to glass, which according to NASA, was used as a “mask through which ultra-violet light was beamed onto a photo-sensitive film on the silicon disc.”

Hydroflouric acid was used to wash the disc during its final etching.

Silicon was first regularly used during World War II for the production of electronic diode components.

NASA chose to use silicon for this special moon disc because of its ability to withstand the extreme temperatures of the moon; which range from 250 to minus-280 degrees Fahrenheit.

To the naked eye, each message appears on the disc “as a barely visible dot,” according to NASA.

One can read each message by using a microscope, so whoever comes across this disc in a future millennia will either need to use one, or have a pair of highly-evolved eyes.

The non-metallic, gray-colored silicon disc was crafted with the same technology used for electronic components; such as integrated circuits.

This disc was considered very high-tech in 1969.

It was made by the Sprague Electric Company’s Semi-Conductor Division, located in Worcestor, MA, with the assistance of NASA’s Electronic Research Center.

Being curious, I gleaned the NASA website for information about the disc, and found their copy of a July 11, 1969, 38-page document titled: “RELEASE NO: 69-83F APOLLO 11 GOODWILL MESSAGES.”

This copy was publically released Sunday, July 13, 1969 – just one week before Apollo 11’s landing on the moon.

I smiled and thought to myself; “Jackpot!”

The first page read: “A small disc carrying statements by presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon and messages of goodwill from leaders of 73 countries around the world will be left on the Moon by the Apollo 11 astronauts.”

An inscription at the top of the disc reads: “Goodwill messages from around the world brought to the Moon by the astronauts of Apollo 11.”

The following are some of the goodwill messages etched onto the silicon disc still resting on the surface of the moon, near the Apollo 11 Lunar Module descent stage:

“Man has reached out and touched the tranquil moon. May that high accomplishment allow man to rediscover the Earth and find peace,” Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada.

“It is our sincere desire that the astronauts, upon the date of their landing on the moon, will have made a significant contribution to a world utopia and peace though the universe,” Chaing Kai-Shek, President, Republic of China.

“The people of Estonia join those who hope and work for freedom and a better world,” Ernst Jaakson, Consul General of Estonia.

“From the President of Israel in Jerusalem with hope of ‘abundance of peace so long as the Moon endureth’ (Psalms 72,7),” Zalman Shazar, President of Israel.

“On this unique occasion when man traverses outer space to set foot on Earth’s nearest neighbor, Moon, I send my greetings and good wishes to the brave astronauts who have launched on this great venture. I fervently hope that this event will usher in an era of peaceful endeavor for all mankind,” Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India.

“... To the glory of the name of God who gives such power to men, we ardently pray for this wonderful beginning,” Pope Paul VI of the Vatican.

For those who are curious; there was no message from Russia on the disc.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth,” John F. Kennedy said on May 25, 1961.

The complete NASA public release papers containing all 73 country goodwill messages can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/disc1969.

You can read my messages (without a microscope) on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

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