The Moon now has hundreds of artifacts. Should they be protected?

2019-07-11 11:59
A camera left by the Apollo 12 crew during their landing on the moon 19 and 20, 1969. (Handout, NASA, AFP)

A camera left by the Apollo 12 crew during their landing on the moon 19 and 20, 1969. (Handout, NASA, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Three rovers, six US flags, dozens of probes that either landed successfully or crashed, tools, cameras and trash: The Moon is dotted with hundreds of objects as a result of space exploration.

Some experts are calling to grant them heritage status to protect them from future tourists and human activity.

It all started on September 13, 1959 when Soviet probe Luna 2 smashed into Mare Imbrium, its 390kg of mass vaporizing, no doubt, on impact.

It was followed in succession by more Luna probes, then it was the Americans' turn with the Ranger and Surveyor programs.

And then, on July 20, 1969, the first humans, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

The pair spent 22 hours on the Sea of Tranquility. They left behind everything that wasn't necessary to taken back: the lunar module's descent stage, cameras, lunar boots, tongs, commemorative objects, and four "defecation collection devices".

Five more successful Apollo missions left behind hundreds of additional objects.

All told, the Moon has about a hundred sites where people have left their mark, according to For All Moonkind, a non-profit that seeks to preserve human heritage in space.

That's about 167 tons of material.

Legally, "the sites themselves aren't protected at all", said Michelle Hanlon, a law professor at the University of Mississippi who co-founded For All Moonkind in 2017 after the head of the European Space Agency Jan Worner joked that he wanted to bring back the American flag.

"So the boot prints, the rover tracks, where items are on the site, which is so important, from an archaeological standpoint, they have no protection," she added.

Hanlon fears the Apollo sites will one day attract the attention of tourists, who could kick up lunar dust that cuts like glass and can be highly damaging.

"If somebody were to get too close to the LEM, there's nothing in international law right now that says you can't just drive a rover right up to it, and actually take a peek at it," she said.

"We need protections against inadvertent as well as intentional acts."

Waste centres?

NASA has adopted recommendations, for example, that future expeditions should not land within 2km of Apollo sites.

In the US Congress, senators have introduced a "One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space" bill.

But the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 is very explicit: "Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."

"Once you start making exclusionary zones, and stopping other countries from their free use and exploration of space, you're running up against the basic premise of the Outer Space Treaty," Jack Beard, a space law professor from the University of Nebraska, told AFP.

To be sure, the treaty says each space object must be registered by its country, a safeguard against irresponsible behavior by private entities.

These artifacts also remain the property of the entity which placed them, effectively barring theft.

But its loopholes concern lawyers, space agencies and the UN, and not only over the issue of protecting heritage.

Moon traffic is likely to grow in the coming decades and the vague principles of cooperation enshrined in the treaty are not seen as sufficient to regulate it.

In 2019 alone, a Chinese robot landed on the Moon, a private Israeli probe crashed, and India will send a probe.

US astronauts are scheduled to visit its southern pole in 2024, where there is ice.

Hundreds of space start-ups have sprung up, many of which want to exploit the water and mineral resources of the Moon and asteroids. What would happen if they quarreled with one another?

"It's clear that there is potential for conflict," Tanja Masson, a professor of space law at Leiden University in The Netherlands told AFP.

"There's a need for rules so that it does not become the Wild West."

She suggests the creation of an international body to distribute priority rights, without granting sovereignty, as is done to manage satellites in geostationary orbit.

As for the risk of filling the celestial body up with junk, she said: "We should perhaps build waste centers on the Moon."

GET THE NEWS at your fingertips and download the News24 app for Android here now. Get it for your iPhone here.

KEEP UPDATED on the latest news by subscribing to our FREE newsletter.

- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter

Read more on:    space  |  astronomy
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

 
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.