California historic preservationists recently registered the remains of the Apollo 11 mission in the so-called Sea of Tranquility as a "Historical Resource." The designation gave a boost to an academic discipline that has been considered science fiction until now: Space Archaeology (Xenoarchaeology).
"It's about time that we acknowledged the importance of these sites for mankind," says Beth O'Leary, an anthropologist at New Mexico State University and the co-founder of the Lunar Legacy Project. O'Leary and her colleagues have compiled a map identifying the items left at the landing site, as well as a comprehensive list of Apollo's junk. Space archaeologists are worried that future missions, or possibly moon tourists, could loot and even destroy this sacred site of earth history.
"Can you imagine someone driving a cart over Neil Armstrong’s first footprint?" warns Peter Capelotti, an anthropologist at Penn State University in Abington, Pennsylvania. The artifacts of human missions to the moon and Mars are urgently in need of official protection, says Capelotti, "Otherwise we must be prepared to someday see pieces of Apollo 11 listed for sale on eBay."
The vast expanses of the solar system already resemble an extraterrestrial museum of technology, with an inventory of thousands of tons of space junk. Mars, for example, is home to an entire fleet of the legendary Rovers. In 1995, a probe from NASA's Galileo satellite was even suspended from a parachute in Jupiter's atmosphere. However, it quickly lost its archaeological value when it shattered at 150 degrees Celsius (302 degrees Fahrenheit) and 22 bar of pressure. Even if individual splinters survived the crash, the gas planet most likely absorbed them.
To take the above concepts "one small step" further…
As humanity explores our solar system and beyond, consideration must be given to the artifacts we leave behind... both for the historical significance as it pertains to earthlings… and for the inhabitants of the systems we explore. We need to adopt the unwritten law of America's national parks: Carry out what you bring in. After all… we do not want to be known as the “litterbugs of the galaxy.” Our galactic citizenship should be established upon respect for the environs we visit and respect for the species we encounter.
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