Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Boldly Going Where No Historic Preservationist Has Gone Before

To the moon, that is, where unregulated commercial activity might eradicate the remains of our first lunar landings.
[F]or archaeologists and historians worried that the next generation of people visiting the moon might carelessly obliterate the site of one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments, [the designations by New Mexico and California of historic artifacts left behind on the moon by the Apollo program] were important first steps toward raising awareness of the need to protect off-world artifacts.

“I think it’s humanity’s heritage,” said Beth L. O’Leary, a professor of anthropology at New Mexico State University. “It’s just an incredible realm that archaeologists haven’t begun to look at until now.”

-- snip --

NASA held a workshop a year ago about the preservation issue. Then [Robert Kelso, manager of lunar commercial services at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston] led a team that cataloged what was left on the moon after the six Apollo landings, and it recommended how to balance historic preservation with the likely desire in the future to investigate how well the materials have lasted.

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,” Mr. Kelso said.

I'd never thought about lunar preservation before, but it makes sense. We already have 936 World Heritage Sites here on Earth, and I would rank the Apollo 11 landing site in the Sea of Tranquility a good deal higher in heritage value than many of those.

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