New Moon Race Endangers Historic Space Artifacts

As a private lunar industry nears liftoff, preservationists seek to guard the artifacts from the first space race.

In 2011 NASA made a nonbinding request that no craft land within a 1.2-mile buffer around the six Apollo sites. The agency still owns the rovers and other artifacts, but space law gives it no standing to protect iconic footprints such as those made by the last moonwalker, Gene Cernan (above), who said in 1972, “God willing…we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”
NASA

At the abandoned campsite, occupied for less than a day, the visitors left much behind: a section of the ship that carried them on this first-of-its-kind voyage and sophisticated tools for measuring seismic rumblings, solar wind, and the precise distance between this spot and home. There are simpler things as well—scoops and scales, canisters and brackets, two pairs of boots. The expendable trash of a successful mission, too heavy to carry home, lies exactly where it was tossed.

On the Earth-facing side of the moon 48 years later, undisturbed by wind or water, development or war, Tranquility Base is still tranquil.

“It’s like an archaeologist’s dream,” says Beth O’Leary, of New Mexico State University, one of several preservationists who consider this pristine time capsule as deserving of protection as any archaeological site on Earth.

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