First there was the menace of space debris, human waste in space such as non-operational satellites or old rocket stages. Debris can crash into space vehicles and instruments and damage them. NASA was forced to create the Orbital Debris Program Office to deal with the issue. But now NASA has issued guidelines to protect historic sites on the Moon, such as the Apollo 11 and 17 landing sites.
It was thought that man’s first footprints on the Moon would remain for a million years, but with the advent of space tourism, led by startups such as Virgin Galactic, the number of vehicles and people visiting the Moon is sure to rise, calling into question how long these historic sites will remain undisturbed.
NASA wants future Moon landings to be at least two kilometers from the historic sites. The reason for these guidelines is in short dust. There is no atmosphere on the Moon to support dust particles, but the lack of atmosphere means that particles once accelerated by something like a Moon landing, will travel quite fast and disturb the surrounding area.
Is this really something we should worry about? Modern explorers don’t have a very good track record. Everest is covered with trash (and a few frozen corpses), particularly at the higher altitudes where people are just worried about surviving.
Mass space tourism may seem like a long way off, but it doesn’t take too many people to make a mess of things. So expecting the worst might be perfectly reasonable in this situation. We protect our cultural legacies all of the time when we landmark buildings. It would be a travesty if a few giddy billionaires buried Neal Armstrong’s footprints under some sand, much like the pyramids of Egypt were centuries ago.
It’s easy to think worrying about a few footprints on the Moon is silly, particularly when our footprint here on Earth is having such disastrous environmental consequences. But I think it’s that imagination that put a man on the Moon that is going to help us dig our way out of the situation we are in now. So it would be a shame to lose these artifacts, because someday we might need the inspiration.
What’s not clear is what effect these new NASA guidelines will have on the conspiracy theorists who think the moon landings were a hoax. Clearly this must all be an effort by NASA to continue the coverup, right?