Preserving the Moon Landings for Posterity

By Valerie Ross | January 11, 2012 11:13 am

Archaeologists, historians, and governments take great care to preserve human history across the globe, protecting monuments of our civilizations and traces of our origins. Even what may seem, at first, like the detritus of existence—footprints left millions of years ago, the contents of well-preserved wastebins—can serve as tangible, informative links to the past.

Now, scientists and officials are working preserve some of humanity’s best-known footprints, left by a giant leap for mankind, by extending those same sorts of historical protections to the Apollo missions’ lunar landing sites. The tricky part is, many such protections require that a site be on the territory of a state or nation—and the US government can’t claim sovereignty over any part of the moon, and doesn’t want to appear as though it’s trying to. But NASA and the New Mexico and California state governments have gotten onboard with the effort to safeguard the sites, spearheaded by New Mexico State University anthropologist Beth O’Leary. A NASA panel recently issued recommendations for protecting the sites that suggest future explorers give a wide berth to the astronautical artifacts left behind, Kenneth Chang reports at the New York Times:

The recommendations, issued in the fall, place greater protections on items from the first moon mission, Apollo 11, and the last one, Apollo 17. For Apollo 11, the recommendations ask that any visitor, robotic or human, stay at least 75 meters from the lander.

“In that case, it would protect every footprint from Neil and Buzz and all the flight hardware,” [NASA’s Robert] Kelso said.

For Apollo 17, the protection bubble is even wider — 225 meters — because a lunar buggy let the last two men on the moon, Eugene A. Cernan and Harrison H. Schmitt, cover much more ground.

NASA’s recommendations aren’t legally binding, and lunar missions by other nations or commercial space outfits can still land wherever they please. But the guidelines do apparently carry some weight: A Lunar X Prize team that intended to land at the Apollo 11 site has changed its plans.

Read more at the New York Times.

Image courtesy of NASA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins, Space
  • woody tanaka

    I have no doubt that some scum-sucking parasite of a capitalist will desecrate these sites at some point in the future.

  • JaberwokWSA

    While I agree that these sites deserve protection, I want to play devil’s advocate and ask exactly what purpose will the protection serve?

    For million year old footprints or a well-preserved waste bin, you can learn things from the context and content of the artifacts. But, if, in the future, you are unable to even access the site for study, how can you learn anything? Plus, I assume that a lot of records exist that detail everything anyway, so what would there be new to learn?

    So, it appears to me to be a matter of saving the sites as a matter of history and sentimentality. But, does it mean anything to have such a record that you can’t access? Examples of this bahavior on Earth might include putting a painting by di Vinci permanently inside a sealed wooden crate. Or placing a cordon a city block wide around the hand and feet prints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

    I can just see it now. Two hundred years from now, a tour group on the moon, and the tour guide saying “If you look to your left 250 feet away, you can see Neil Armstrong’s footprints. Sure it’s there. Just trust me.” If I only had eyes that good.

  • Lynn

    Please remember that NASA has already lost/erase the original moon landing tapes for ever and all thats left are the transcribed ones that went out to the media. The originals with there own unique format are lost for ever.

  • Iain

    Won’t be long before they are roped off and souvenir stands pop up. Then comes the fast food place and wrappers and paper coffee cups everywhere. Sigh.
    Yes I know it’s on the moon.

  • JMW

    @4 Iain – I seem to recall a footnote in Terry Prachett’s “Wyrd Sisters” where a he’s describing a crowd scene, and someone has opened up a stall selling sausages. The footnote says something along the lines of the franchise included the stall, the uniform, the barbecue, and a small gas-powered time machine.”

    That’d do it.

  • Iain

    Soon doesn’t have to mean next week.
    I think within a decade there will be privately funded trips to the moon. Expensive YES, but do-able. Don’t need any tomfoolery nobrain things that you suggest, just money, and there is a lot of that around.

  • Frank Glover

    IIRC, Robert Forward’s novel ‘Martian Rainbow’ had a scene where tourists are observing the Viking-1 lander from a similar fenced off distance. Someone notes that there’s one set of footprints going to the lander and back, and wonders who would dare disturb the site.

    The guide tells her; “It was me. Years ago, I had to go to it, in order to attach a plaque made in the last century on Earth, designating it the Thomas A. Mutch Memorial Station. It was meant to be brought here whenever a manned expedition to the site was practical…and I was on it. It fell to me to go put it on the lander. I’m the only one who has ever actually walked up to it.”

    That’s not a quote, I no longer have the book, but that was essentially it. And there really *is* such a plaque for that lander, waiting for such a time…

    I also recall a pair of paintings in an astronomy magazine, one similarly depicting a Viking lander, the site protected under a large clear dome, clearly surrounded by a large, thriving human colony…

    And another painting, depicting a lonely, seriously sandblasted, partly dune-buried lander, many centuries after its arrival. No evidence that humans were ever present. The implication being that civilization on Earth collapsed (or humans may even have become extinct) for whatever reasons, before we could ever get there.

    Which outcome will actually happen…?

  • Nibra

    It’s not for safe keeping. It’s so people won’t realize how fake it is. and that there are no footprints up there, no tracks made by a rover and no landing occured. Just another step in what will be known as the greatest propaganda media blitz that ever occured.

  • Frank Glover

    Right. And yet the former Soviet Union, with all the intelligence-gathering resources of the KGB at its disposal, never once so much as *hinted* that we were faking it. It would have been the greatest propaganda coup of all time, but they said nothing…because there was nothing to say. (Except to pretend they were never interested in going to the Moon, when it was clear they could not be first. *That* is the only Moon-related deception, and one the Russians no longer assert. One can easily find video of their heavy-lift launch failures on YouTube today. For all its other faults, even the movie ‘Apollo 18’ got the now-known design of the intended Russian lander right.)

    Of course, some will tell you ‘the Russians were in on it, too.’ Such people don’t remember or understand the Cold War, that they would *never* agree to such a conspiracy with the US, especially one that made them look inferior by not appearing to get there, either. Walk quietly away from such people, and hope they take their meds…

    And eventually someone, *many* someones, will go back to the Moon. But the theorists will still insist that the sites were faked, even when it becomes possible to buy a ticket there.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar