Most Active Stories
Tue January 10, 2012
Dr. Beth O'Leary, New Mexico State University - Protecting Lunar Landing Sites
Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Beth O'Leary of New Mexico State University explains the emerging need to protect historically important sites on the moon.
Beth O'Leary is an associate professor of anthropology at New Mexico State University where her areas of interest include both cultural anthropology and archeology. She is an expert in the archaeology of outerspace and in June 2009 she published, The Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology and Heritage.
Dr. Beth O'Leary - Protecting Lunar Landing Sites
The moon is a place in the night sky where memories are stored. Cultures from Australia to the Arctic value its presence in their stories, and rituals. But no one had actually been there until 1969. The first landing on the moon by two humans at the Apollo 11 Tranquility Base site is one of the most extraordinary events in the history of humanity. It rivals the first use of fire. The Apollo astronauts created the first archaeological site leaving boot tracks, scientific experiments and debris on another celestial body. During the Cold War there were robotic missions by the both the US and USSR. To date there are 80 sites and over 100 metric tons of cultural material on the moon. The lunar assemblage has tools like the lunar laser ranging retro- reflector (which is still providing data today) and trash like discarded food bags. Tranquility Base is part of a cultural landscape, a critical link to Kennedy Space Center and myriad facilities in the world which produced the material culture of space exploration.
I am a part of a new field - space archaeology and heritage - which values the recent journey to the ultimate frontier. Space archaeologists recognize a network of artifacts which demonstrate the scientific evolution of leaving the surface of the earth. It includes the Vanguard satellite, predicted to be in orbit for 600 years. This July, NASA recognized the importance of all the lunar sites that it created and has written guidelines for future space-faring entities to help protect the lunar artifacts and the scientific value of that extraordinary material. We are on the verge of a new Space Age that will see commercial entities and nations going back to the Moon. Space archaeology seeks to find ways to evaluate and preserve critical phases of space exploration. The NASA document is one important first step in lunar historic preservation.