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We have to protect the heritage of Apollo's missions



It's 50 years since the two Apollo 11 astronauts – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – spent 22 hours collecting samples, unfolding experiments, and sometimes just playing at sea on the moon's calm.

In this way, they create a unique archaeological site in human history.

Now, with the so-called New Space Race and Moon Return Plans, Apollo 11 and other moon objects are under threat. We must protect this legacy for future generations.



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Archaeological site of Apollo 11

The archaeological site of the base for tranquility consists of the remains of hardware as well as the signs made by the moon's surface by astronauts and instruments.

Astronaut Apollo 11 Buzz Aldrin with the seismic experiment and other equipment left on the moon.
NASA

The hardware component includes landing gear, the famous flag (no longer standing), experimental packs, cameras, antennas, commemorative objects, space boots, and many other discarded objects – altogether more than 106.

Around these objects are the first human traces of the Moon, as well as the trails the astronauts were walking around, and the places where they dug specimens of rock and dust to return to Earth for scientific analysis.

Artifacts, traces and landscapes represent an archaeological site. Relationships between them can be used by archaeologists to study human behavior in a medium that is so different from Earth, with one sixth Earth gravity and no atmosphere.

Valuation of inheritance value

Not only that, but the site has a value for the inheritance of people on Earth. To appreciate this, we can look at a number of categories of cultural significance. Those in the Burah Charter are widely used in the world for heritage assessment.

Historical: There is no doubt that, as a first place where people step into another heavenly body, it is a very important place in world history. He also presents the ideologies of the Cold War (1947-1992) between the US and the USSR.

Buzz Aldrin leaves a mark on the first landing on the Moon.
NASA

Scientific: What can we learn from the site? In particular, what issues will we no longer be able to answer if the bases of tranquility were damaged or destroyed?

This is not just about archaeological research of the human behavior of the Moon. Apollo 11 has been exposed to the harsh environment for 50 years. The hardware surfaces are random experiments in them: they record 50 years of micrometeorite and cosmic ray bombardment. Finding how well materials survive can also provide information on how to design future missions.

Aesthetically: This type of cultural significance is about how we experience a place. Until we can personally appreciate it, there are movies and photos that give us a sense of place. This includes the light, shadows and colors of the lunar surface from the point of view of human senses. The aesthetic qualities inspire many artists and musicians, including astronaut Alan Bean, who devoted his life after Apollo 12 to the drawing of the moon.

Astronaut Alan Bean has several experiments during the Apollo 12 mission on the moon.
NASA

Social: It is about the value that modern communities place on the site. For the 600 million people who watched the TV broadcast of the landing, it was a moment that changed life and represented the ingenuity of human technology and the visions of the future of the cosmic era.

But the mission did not mean the same for all. Some African-Americans protested against Apollo 11, seeing it as a waste of resources when there was such a large economic and social mismatch between white and black communities in the United States. For them, it was a sign of human failure, not triumph.

The higher the community that has an interest in the heritage, the higher its social significance. It can be argued that Apollo 11 has an extraordinary universal significance, as places on the World Heritage List (unfortunately the World Heritage Convention can not be applied in space).

What are the threats?

Over the last few years there has been an increase in proposed moon return missions. Some have stated their intention to reconsider Apollo's places, a human crew or a robot – and this could lead to the extraction of material, souvenirs or science.

But the sites are fragile and unprotected. The two main risks to their survival are uncontrolled robbery and damage from abrasive and sticky lunar dust.

Look at the dust ejected from the moon movement led by astronaut John W. Young during Apollo 16's mission. The dust and the rover are still on the moon.
NASA

Removing materials from objects damages the integrity of the artifacts and the links between them. A casual visit can delete the original traces and astronauts. Corrosive dust disturbed by surface activities can wear out the materials.

Dust was a problem for all moon crew missions. Apollo commander 16 John Young said: "Dust is the main concern when returning to the moon."

The dust may be affected by jets of landing or climbing vehicles, driving on vehicles, walking on the surface or, in the next phase of the moon's settlement, through construction and industrial activities such as mining.

Attempts to Protect

The space agreement of 1967 bans territorial claims in space. Implementation of any national inheritance legislation in place of the Moon can be interpreted as a territorial claim.

The US states of California and New Mexico have placed the Apollo 11 moon artifacts on the list of heritage. They can do this because, according to the treaty, the US legitimately owns the artifacts. But this does not protect the place itself.

Take a look at the prints of this image of astronaut Charles M. Duke Jr. on the mission of Apollo 16.
NASA

NASA has created a set of heritage guidelines for its locations on the Moon. The guidelines offer buffer zones around those areas where nobody should enter. They make recommendations for approaching objects to minimize dust disturbance.

In May 2019, a bill called the Law on Small Steps for the Protection of Human Heritage in Space was presented to the US Congress. Its purpose is:

Require any federal licensing agency to include in the requirements for such licenses an agreement relating to the protection and protection of the landing site of Apollo 11 and for other purposes.

But the bill only applies to Apollo 11 and there are no similar requirements for the five other Apollo landing sites. It applies only to US missions. This is a step in the right direction, but there is still something to be done.

The plaque remains based on the lunar module during the mission of Apollo 11.
NASA

Only in the last decade the idea of ​​space archeology has acquired legitimacy. Until recently, it was not urgent to create an international framework for the management of the cultural heritage of the lunar heritage.



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We are now in a new situation. On Earth, it is common for industrial or urban activities that violate the environment to be subject to an environmental impact assessment that includes an inheritance.

Even when there are no laws to force companies to pay attention to the legacy, many believe it is important to seek a social license to work – support from interested communities to continue their work.

Everyone on Earth is a participant in the moon's inheritance. Fifty years after that, what will remain on Apollo 11 and other places? What new meanings will people draw from it?


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