Search icon


24th Feb 2024

Astronaut explains hidden message on family photo he left on the moon

Charlie Herbert

family photo on moon

The family photo has been up on the moon for decades

An astronaut explained the hidden message behind why he decided to leave family photo on the moon.

Charles Duke became the youngest man ever to walk on the moon when he was part of the Apollo 16 mission in April 1972.

And whilst he was on the lunar surface, he decided to carry out a unique gesture by leaving a photo of him and his family there.

On the back of the snap, he wrote: “This is the family of astronaut Charlie Duke from planet Earth who landed on the moon on April 20, 1972.”

He then took a picture of the photo to prove he had left it on the moon.

The family snap was of him, his eldest son Charles Duke III, who had just turned seven on the left, his youngest son, five-year-old Thomas Duke, on the right, and his wife Dorothy Meade Claiborne sat next to him.


Explaining why he took the photo to space with him, Duke told Business Insider: “I’d always planned to leave it on the moon. So when I dropped it, it was just to show the kids that I really did leave it on the moon.”

He said that for him, the photo is a symbol of the “human side of space exploration.”

He explained that he didn’t see much of his kids while he was training to become an astronaut, so thought up the idea so that “the whole family can go to the moon” with him.

Duke said: “Just to get the kids excited about what dad was going to do, I said ‘Would y’all like to go to the moon with me?’

“We can take a picture of the family and so the whole family can go to the moon.”

The photo Duke left on the moon (Charles Duke)

However, in the decades that have passed since he left the photo up there, Duke fears it’s unlikely to be in the same quality as it was when he dropped it.

He said: “After 43 years, the temperature of the moon every month goes up to 400 degrees [Fahrenheit] in our landing area and at night it drops almost absolute zero.

“Shrink wrap doesn’t turn out too well in those temperatures. It looked OK when I dropped it, but I never looked at it again and I would imagine it’s all faded out by now.”

And there’s no way to check its condition as it’s too small for any satellites to spot on the surface.

But this doesn’t take away from the symbolism of the touching gesture and how much it meant to Duke and his family.

Related links:

Space Engine software finally reveals how warm it is inside Uranus