суббота, 20 июля 2019 г.

Space Tourism — We must better protect the sites of Lunar missions

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July 20, 2019

Hundreds of objects dot the moon, and experts would like to inscribe them with the equivalent of a lunar heritage of humanity.

Landing sites on the Moon

It all started on September 13, 1959 when the Soviet Luna 2 probe crashed into the Sea of ​​Rains: 390 kilos probably sprayed on impact. Russian (Luna) and American (Ranger, Surveyor) probes followed, to the first humans, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on the night of July 20th to 21st, 1969.

The two astronauts stayed for 22 hours in the Sea of ​​Tranquility. Before taking off again, they left on the ground any useless mass. NASA has cataloged some fifty objects: the lunar module descent stage (LEM), cameras, boots, clips, but also commemorative objects, as well as four «defecation collection devices».

Buzz Aldrin’s footprint on the surface of the moon, Apollo 11, 20 July 1969

Five other Apollo crews left hundreds of extra items. In total, the Moon has a hundred sites with a human trace, according to the organization For All Moonkind. At least 167 tons of material in total, according to its register.

Sites not protected

Legally, «the sites are not protected at all,» says Michelle Hanlon, a law professor at the University of Mississippi who co-founded For All Moonkind in 2017 after a joke from European Space Agency boss Jan Wörner, who said he wanted to return to the moon to bring back an American flag.

Footprints and lunar rovers prints on the Moon, Apollo 17 landing site

«Footprints, traces of rover tires and places where archeologically important objects are found have no protection,» says Michelle Hanlon to AFP. She fears that Apollo sites will one day attract interest from tourists. But the slightest projection of lunar dust, cutting like glass, can damage the materials. «If anyone wants to get closer to the LEM, nothing in international law prohibits driving a rover to him,» she says. «We need protections against accidental or deliberate acts.»

Treaty on space

NASA has adopted «recommendations»: for example, do not land within 2 km of Apollo sites. In the US Congress, senators tabled a text to create de facto protected cultural heritage sites and prohibited areas. But the Treaty on Space (1967) is very clear: the moon «can not be the object of national appropriation by proclamation of sovereignty, nor by way of use or occupation».

«Preventing countries from freely using and exploring space is contrary to a fundamental principle of the Space Treaty,» says space law professor Jack Beard at the University of Nebraska. Admittedly, the treaty contains safeguards: every space object must be registered by a state, which is perpetually responsible for it. This limits the risk of lunar anarchy. The treaty also clearly forbids any theft, for example, of Apollo’s memories. Objects launched by a country remain its property, wherever they are in the universe.

NASA to future moon explorers: Do not ruin our Apollo landing sites

But gaps in space law are of concern to lawyers, space agencies and the United Nations, not just for the protection of heritage. Moon traffic is likely to grow in the coming decades; the vague principles of cooperation enshrined in the treaty will not suffice to regulate it.

In 2019 alone, a Chinese robot has landed, a private Israeli probe has crashed into it, and India is going to send back a probe. Americans are expected to moon in 2024 at the South Pole, where there is ice. Hundreds of space start-ups have sprung up, many of whom want to exploit the water and mineral resources of the Moon and asteroids. What would happen if two entities quarreled one another?

Potential for conflict

«It is clear that there is potential for conflict,» says AFP Tanja Masson, a professor of space law at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. «There is a need for rules so that it does not become the Wild West.»

It suggests the creation of an international body to equitably distribute priority rights, without granting sovereignty, as is done to manage satellites in geostationary orbit. As for the risk of «pollution», she concludes: «It may be waste dumps on the moon!»

Related links:

NASA History: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/history/index.html

The Outer Space Treaty — UNOOSA: http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/introouterspacetreaty.html

Outer Space Treaty — United States Department of State: https://2009-2017.state.gov/t/isn/5181.htm

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/ATS/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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