California wants to register as historical resources the space junk (high-tech and otherwise) left behind by the Apollo 11 crew.
When the Apollo 11 astronauts blasted off from the moon, they left behind not just the small steps of men but a giant pile of equipment and junk for all of mankind.
Some of the 5,000 pounds of stuff Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin abandoned at Tranquility Base was purposeful: a seismic detector to record moonquakes and meteorite impacts; a laser-reflection device to make precise distance measurements between Earth and the moon; a U.S. flag and commemorative plaque. Some was unavoidable: Apollo 11’s lunar module descent stage wasn’t designed to be carted back home, for instance.
The rest was cast aside to lighten the load of the Eagle lunar module and allow for takeoff. To compensate for the weight of moon rocks and soil samples, the astronauts gave the heave-ho to more than 100 items, creating a veritable yard sale of high technology and lowly debris. Space boots and portable life-support systems. The armrests from their cockpit seats. A hammer, scoops, cameras and containers. Tethers and antennas. Empty food bags and bags filled with human waste.
Low-impact campers they were not.
“They were told to jettison things that weren’t important. So they starting tossing stuff,” said Beth O’Leary, an assistant professor of anthropology at New Mexico State University and a leader in the emerging field of space heritage and archaeology. “They were essentially told, ‘Here’s eight minutes, create an archaeology site.’ “
There are countless places on Earth that have been awarded protection to preserve their historic or cultural importance. The moon has none. But that may be about to change.
California is poised to become the first state to register the items at Tranquility Base as an official State Historical Resource. If the State Historical Resources Commission approves the idea at a meeting in Sacramento today, it would be a victory for scientists who want to build support for having Tranquility Base designated a United Nations World Heritage Site in advance of what they believe will be unmanned trips to the moon by private groups, and even someday by tourists. Proposals to place the items on historic registries in Texas and New Mexico are planned for later this year.
“There’s a really good chance that we will be up there again in the next decades,” said Jay Correia, a California state historian who manages the registration process.