by Douglas Messier
When the Apollo astronauts visited the moon nearly 50 years ago, they left behind a treasure trove of abandoned equipment and supplies on the surface ranging from the lunar module descent stage to electric cars and even uneaten food.
With both governments and private companies eyeing a return to the moon, the U.S. government is working on strategies to not only preserve these sites for historical purposes, but to use them to support the next stage of human exploration of the lunar surface, according to a new White House report.
“These sites offer rich opportunities for biological, physical, and material sciences. Future
visits to the Moon’s surface offer opportunities to study the effects of long-term exposure to the lunar
environment on materials and articles, including food left behind, paint, nylon, rubber, and metals,” the report stated. “Currently, very little data exist that describe what effect temperature extremes, lunar dust,micrometeoroids, solar radiation, etc. have on such man-made material, and no data exist for time frames approaching the five decades that have elapsed since the Apollo missions.”
The report, “Protecting & Preserving Apollo Program Lunar Landing Sites & Artifacts,” was published last month by the White House Office of Science & Technology (OSTP). The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 required that OSTP produce the document.
The report recommended NASA, the State Department and other agencies look for opportunities to leverage lunar missions being done by others to assess the state of equipment left on the moon.
“This effort should also include investigating opportunities to partner on missions with various entities to observe the effect of the lunar environment on different materials used in Apollo lunar artifacts and the artifacts of other States,” the document stated.
The report also recommended government officials continue discussions with foreign space agencies on the preservation of the historic Apollo sites.
“This effort should include discussion of rights and responsibilities in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty as well as opportunities and challenges shared by space-faring and emerging space countries,” the report said. “Fora for these discussions include the annual International Astronautical Congress, future International Space Exploration fora, the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, and other multilateral and bilateral meetings.”
The U.S. government should also “investigate the feasibility of working with the international community to develop non-binding best practices for preserving and protecting lunar artifacts on a ‘reciprocal, transparent, and mutually beneficial’ basis,” the document stated.
The report also recommended that U.S. agencies discuss the benefits and drawbacks “of beginning international dialogue on the best ways to mitigate risks presented by future human and robotic exploration to the lunar artifacts of the United States and other countries.”