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NASA moves to protect lunar history

As NASA moves on to the technology of the future, it's also working to protect the technology of the past. The space agency has issued a set of guidelines for preserving historical sites on the moon.

The guidelines come as the X Prize Foundation is judging 26 teams trying to become the first privately funded team to visit the moon. The teams have submitted mobility plans as part of a context for the Google Lunar X Prize. At stake is a total of $30 million in prizes. The first prize will go a team that “builds a rover which lands successfully land on the moon, explores it by moving at least one third of a mile and returns high-definition video and imagery to Earth,” according to NASA.

But there are already lunar rovers on the moon, left there by the Apollo missions. There are also parts of lunar landing craft and other relics of human lunar exploration in the 1960s and '70s. NASA's guidelines are not mandatory, but they seek to ensure no damage comes to the equipment as new visitors explore the moon.

“NASA assembled the guidelines using data from previous lunar studies and analysis of the unmanned lander Surveyor 3's samples after Apollo 12 landed nearby in 1969. Experts from the historic, scientific and flight-planning communities also contributed to the technical recommendations,” wrote NASA officials in a statement.

The guidance document itself reads: “Since the completion of the Apollo lunar surface missions in 1972, no missions have returned to visit these historic sites, leaving them in pristine condition and undisturbed by artificial processes (the sites have changed due to normal space weathering). It is anticipated that future spacecraft will have the technology and their operators will have the interest to visit these sites in the coming years. These visits could impose significant disturbance risks to these sites, thus potentially destroying irreplaceable historic, scientific and educational artifacts and materials.”

For the full guidelines document, click here.

Posted by Michael Hardy on May 25, 2012 at 12:18 PM


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Reader comments

Wed, May 30, 2012 SoutheastUS

I vote for preparing an international treaty that protects such historic sites and lays out very particular activities that can be carried out near and on these sites. Such a treaty should also stipulate that all vehicles and material left on the lunar surface by past and future lunar landing programs permanently belong to the respective country and/or companies (and their "heirs and assigns, forever") that sent them there in the first place.

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