With SpaceX’s Dragon capsule docking with the International Space Station and making history as the world’s first commercial supply (space-)ship, it’s clear that the rules of space flight are in the process of changing in ways that seemed, at best, unlikely years ago. No wonder, then, that NASA is looking to ensure that some things remain the same… For example, the moon.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced late last week that the Google Lunar X Prize is recognizing its guidelines to “protect lunar historic sites and preserve ongoing and future science on the moon,” and that those guidelines will be taken into account as the judging into the 26 teams attempting to win private funding that would enable them to reach the moon.
“NASA recognizes that many spacefaring nations and commercial entities are on the verge of landing spacecraft on the moon,” the agency explained in a statement, adding that it had “engaged in a cooperative dialogue with the X Prize Foundation and the Google Lunar X Prize teams to develop the recommendations, and that all parties “share a common interest in preserving humanity’s first steps on another celestial body and protecting ongoing science from the potentially damaging effects of nearby landers.”
Amongst the suggestions being adopted by Lunar X, any landing must take place at least 1.2 miles from any Apollo landing site, and at least 1,600 feet from the Ranger impact sites, in order to keep those historical sites free from potential contamination or damage, such as accidental sandblasting from any moon dust being blown up by passing spacecraft. “Only one misstep could forever damage this priceless human treasure,” warn the guidelines.
The guidelines, which are available here, use scientific data from previous lunar missions and the analysis of data collected during such studies as well as testimony and input from those involved in the missions and subsequent studies. Despite such impressive credentials, the agency goes to great lengths to state that the guidelines are in no way legally binding and “do not represent mandatory U.S. or international requirements.” Fortunately, traffic is still so rare up there that everyone has a little bit of time before we have to start worrying about legal jurisdiction or space cops…