Last week, the Google Lunar X Prize Foundation announced that it will recognize the guidelines NASA has established to protect historic sites on the moon.
For the 26 teams currently vying for the prize, this means their attempts to land on and rove around the moon have to stay clear of the Apollo landing sites. After all, it’s not just technological relics that rest on the surface; there’s a human record tied into those sites, too.
The Apollo landing zones are incredibly unique. On Earth, preserving a historic site usually comes with a multimillion dollar price tag to cover ongoing maintenance. But on the moon, where there’s no weather to wear theses sites away, preserving them is as simple as never going near them.
Neil Armstrong’s boot prints will never fade. There’s also science at those sites that ought to be left alone; thebacteria in fecal collection bags there could be of interest to future biologists.
But there’s more than just waste, spent descent stages, and lunar rovers in six areas on the moon’s surface. There are personal effects that humanize the missions — the whole program — and tell the stories of the individuals who walked on the surface.
Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, whose Apollo 11 mission patch didn’t list theirs and Michael Collins’ names, brought another crew’s insignia to the surface. After their two-and-a-half-hour walk, the crew left an Apollo 1 patch bearing the names of the three astronauts who died in the pre-launch fire in 1967. It joined the American flag and official mission plaque as permanent fixtures at the Sea of Tranquility.