November 10, 2011—National parks have many rules of what visitors can and can’t do, in an effort to maintain the sites for the benefit of future generations.
New rules being proposed for travelers to the moon serve a similar purpose; NASA wants to protect lunar landing sites and artifacts for future study.
NASA sent six manned space missions to the moon from 1969-72. Each of the missions landed in a different spot and in each case, American astronauts left behind various artifacts.
USA Today reported that while NASA isn’t expecting the sites to generate the kind of traffic we see at national parks on Earth, the prospect of tourists could affect plans to inspect the sites and artifacts in the future. NASA’s guidelines call for a 1,200-acre no-fly zone around the first Apollo 11 landing site and the final Apollo 17 site to avoid spraying rocket exhaust or dust onto aging equipment. Apollo 17’s recommended protection site is bigger than Apollo 11 because the lander mission featured a moon buggy, which is on the list of items that NASA might like inspected.
Other guidelines would allow tourists to only walk within 82 yards of the Apollo 11 landing site where Neil Armstrong took his first step on July 20, 1969.
Space.com reported that the guidelines were created now because of the Google Lunar X Prize’s offer of $20 million to any private team that lands a robotic rover on the moon’s surface. An additional $4 million has been offered for any team that snaps pictures of artifacts near or at the Apollo landing sites.
“Importantly, it recognizes that future missions can disturb or change the earlier lunar sites in ways that scientific and historic information can be lost,” said archaeologist Beth O’Leary of New Mexico State University. “It was time for a preservation strategy.”
The guidelines aren’t meant just to keep people out, but also to let researchers in selectively, USA Today reported, so that the space agency can learn how artifacts degrade on the moon.
“One problem is that the moon is a bit of a legal gray area,” O’Leary said. NASA owns its artifacts, but nobody owns the moon. “There are extraordinary Russian sites as well, that they would likely want to preserve.”
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the moon in July 1969 in this photo snapped by Neil Armstrong.
Photo credit: NASA
The twists and turns of the last tracks left by humans on the moon crisscross the surface in this LRO image of the Apollo 17 site. In the thin lunar soil, the trails made by astronauts on foot can be easily distinguished from the dual tracks left by the lunar roving vehicle, or LRV. Also seen in this image are the descent stage of the Challenger lunar module and the LRV, parked to the east. Photo credit: NASA/Goddard/ASU