For the last 50 years, the two Apollo 11 astronauts – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – spent 22 hours collecting samples, deploying experiments, and sometimes just playing the Sea of tranquility on the Moon.
By doing so, they created a unique archaeological site in human history.
Now, with what is called the new space race and the plans to return to the Moon, Apollo 11 and other lunar sites are threatened. We have to protect this heritage for future generations.
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The archaeological site of Apollo 11
The archeological site of Tranquility Base consists of hardware left behind, as well as the markings made on the lunar surface by astronauts and instruments.
The hardware component includes the landing module, the famous flag (no longer exists), experiment packages, cameras, antennas, commemorative objects, space boots and many other discarded objects: more than 106 in total.
Around these objects are the first human footprints on the Moon, as well as the tracks made by astronauts walking above, and the places where they excavated rock and dust samples to return to Earth to make scientific analysis.
Artifacts, traces and landscape constitute an archaeological site. Archaeologists can use the relationships between them to study human behavior in this environment that is so different from Earth, with a sixth terrestrial gravity and no atmosphere.
Valuation of the patrimonial value
Not only that, but the site has an asset value for people on Earth. To evaluate this, we can examine various categories of cultural importance. Those that appear in the Burra Charter are widely used throughout the world for the evaluation of the heritage.
Historic: There is no doubt that, as the first place where human beings put their foot in another celestial body, this is a very important place in global history. It also represents the ideologies of the Cold War (1947-1992) between the US and the USSR.
Scientist: What can we learn from the site? More particularly, what questions could we not answer if the base of tranquility was damaged or destroyed?
It is not just archaeological research on human behavior on the Moon. Apollo 11 has been exposed to the hard lunar environment for 50 years. The surfaces of the hardware are accidental experiments in these cases: they carry the 50-year record of micrometeorite and cosmic ray bombardment. You can also find information on how to design future missions to know how materials have survived.
Aesthetic: This type of cultural importance is about how we experience a place. Although we can not personally evaluate it, there are movies and photos that give us a sensation for the site. This includes the light, shadows and colors of the lunar surface from the perspective of the human senses. The aesthetic qualities have inspired many artists and musicians, including astronaut Alan Bean, who dedicated his post-Apolo 12 life to painting the Moon.
Social: This is the value that contemporary communities place on the site. For the 600 million more people who saw the television broadcast of landing, it was a time that changed the life that represented the ingenuity of human technology and the visions of a space future.
But the mission did not mean the same for everyone. Some African Americans protested against Apollo 11, seeing it as a loss of resources when there was a great economic and social disparity between US and US black communities. For them, it was a sign of human failure rather than a victory.
The larger the community that is interested in a heritage site, the greater the level of social importance. It could be argued that Apollo 11 has an exceptional universal meaning, such as World Heritage List sites (unfortunately, the World Heritage Convention can not be applied to space).
What are the threats?
In recent years we have seen an increase in the proposed missions to return to the Moon. Some have indicated their intention to return to visit Apollo sites, on the part of the human crew or the robot, and this could lead to the elimination of material, memories or science.
But places are fragile and unprotected. The two main risks for their survival are the uncontrolled plundering and the damages derived from the abrasive and sticky lunar pulse.
Removing the material from sites damages the integrity of the artefacts and the relationships between them. An informal visit could clear the original footprints and cross the astronauts. Corrosive dust disturbed by superficial activities could wreck the materials.
The dust was a problem for all manned lunar missions. Commander of Apollo 16, John Young, said: "The dust is the main concern to return to the Moon."
The dust can be removed by landing or rising vehicle plumes, driving vehicles, walking to the surface or, in the next phase of lunar solution, for construction and industrial activities, such as mining.
The 1967 External Space Treaty prohibits making territorial claims to space. The application of any legislation on national heritage to a place on the Moon could be construed as a territorial claim.
The American states of California and New Mexico have placed Objects of Apollo 11 on the Moon in a heritage list. They can do this because, according to the treaty, the United States legally owns the artefacts. But that does not protect your own site.
NASA has established a set of guidelines on the heritage of its sites on the Moon. The guidelines propose buffer zones around these areas, within which no one should enter. They make recommendations to get closer to places to minimize dust perturbations.
In May 2019, a bill called "A small step to protect human heritage in space" was introduced to the US Congress. Its purpose is:
Require that any federal agency that issues licenses to carry out activities in the outer space include in the requirements for these licenses an agreement regarding the conservation and protection of the landing site of Apollo 11 and for other purposes .
But the invoice only applies to Apollo 11 and has no requirements similar to the other five Apollo sites. It's also only applicable to US missions. It is a step in the right direction, but much remains to be done.
Only in the last decade was the idea of space archeology legitimized. Until recently, there was no need to establish an international framework to manage the cultural values of the lunar heritage.
Why is the moon a place so crater?
We are now in a new situation. On Earth, it is common for industrial or urban activities that disturb the environment to be subject to an environmental impact assessment, which includes heritage.
Even when there are no laws that force companies to pay attention to equity, many consider it important to look for a social license to operate: the support of communities interested in continuing their activities.
Everyone on Earth is an actor interested in the heritage of the Moon. From now fifty years, what is the rest of Apollo 11 and elsewhere? What new meanings will be achieved?