July 28, 2021

The footsteps of man on the Moon can disappear

The footsteps of man on the Moon can disappear

TO mid-April the Beresheet ship, which departed from Earth last week, it will touch lunar soil and turn Israel into the fourth country in history capable of sending an artifact to the Moon, after the usual United States, Soviet Union and China. Sending a device to the surface of our satellite is a technological feat. Doing it from a small country bathed by the Mediterranean, it is no less. Hence the expectation that the Israeli space mission has raised around the world. Well, from there and that the adventure could have a really unexpected side effect. The space probe Beresheet (which means Genesis in Hebrew) is ready to land on Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of ​​Tranquility), the vast lunar plain where her feet first landed astronauts of the Apollo 11 ship 50 years ago. That is to say, the place where, for half a century, the mythical footprint of the astronaut Buzz Aldrin's boot has been preserved, which he photographed to turn it into an icon of our time. Next to it there are dozens of other traces that are the indelible memory of the human space dream. The environmental conditions of the Moon and the lack of erosion of the ground make these footprints printed in the regolith landscape remain almost unchanged since then.

But What would happen if a spacecraft flew over exactly the same span of land? What if he perched right on top of her? The arrival of the Beresheet Israeli private moon probe near the Buzz Aldrin footprint has certainly triggered some alarms.

Mare Tranquillitatis is a vast extension of 1,000 kilometers in diameter so there is enough space to perch without disturbing at all the parking area of ​​the mythical Apollo 11 space mission. But some experts have wanted to remember that falling into the same impact zone does not it would be precisely impossible.

When the astronauts of the second manned mission (Apollo 12) arrived on the Moon in November of 1969, they landed much closer than expected from the Surveyor III ship, an unmanned device he had been carrying on the satellite since 1967.

The Surveyor probe (the first to dig a hole in the lunar surface with a small drill), was hit by the gravel ejected by the retro-pulpit rockets of the Apollo 12 mission and part of its fuselage was damaged by it.

The proximity of the landing was not only able to endanger the crew of the Apollo mission, but it showed that cosmic caroms are possible: that two ships sent from Earth end up colliding on lunar soil.

It does not seem easy: as it would not be that a driver who parks in a parking lot ends up colliding with the only vehicle that had previously parked in it … But it can happen, I attest to that.

Abraham «Avi» Loeb is an Israeli astronomer based at Harvard University famous for its provocative predictions about the existence of intelligent life outside the Earth. This week Loeb also wanted to enter the landing stage of the Beresheet probe next April: "As we send more and more ships to the Moon, we humans are leaving more scars in the limpid lunar landscape. It would be necessary to establish international measures to protect the Selenite environment. " In other words: consider that the floor of the Moon must be declared a protected area.

And not only the soil, but everything in it. That is, the tons of instruments, the tracks, the flags, the memories deposited by the astronauts (ranging from family photographs to toy soldiers, to two golf balls thrown by Alan Shephard, the highest human being who played golf, during the Apollo 14 mission).

All that material could be endangered by the upcoming space missions. The proximity of the engines that are used to descend generates irreparable damage to the objects found in its path. Posing a probe on the footprint of astronaut Aldrin It would be like using a blowtorch on the nose of the Mona Lisa.

Does it matter?

At present, there is no legal framework that regulates the conservation of the cultural heritage on the Moon.

On Earth, if a tourist thinks of extracting a piece of an inscription in an Egyptian pyramid or painting "Manolo was here" on the walls of the Altamira caves, he faces serious problems with justice. But a future space tourist could go to the Moon, could bring the piece of land where the Buzz Aldrin footprint lies and sell it in an auction house for a good peak.

No law prevents someone or something from erasing man's footprints on the Moon, a piece of the Eagle module is brought back from memory or the family photograph left by astronaut "Charlie" Duke (Apollo 16).

That is why many experts in space legislation have asked for things to change. An international organization (perhaps Unesco) should also declare the lunar regolith World Heritage. But, whatever happens, it will inevitably happen after the Israeli ship Beresheet arrives at Mare Tranquillitatis. Hopefully, he will do it with good reason, at a sufficient distance from the first human tracks outside the Earth.


Although we have the idea of ​​astronaut Aldrin's imprint on the Moon, it is imperishable (except for the aforementioned), recent studies published in the scientific journal "Nature" have warned that it may not be so.

It is true that the absence of erosion and winds in the only natural satellite of the Earth means that any sign of human activity remains for decades, perhaps centuries, uncorrupted. But there is a factor that could deteriorate, very slowly, the historical footsteps of astronauts.

The Moon is covered by clouds of lunar and space dust particles and each particle or object that comes in contact with the gravity of the satellite is guaranteed to fall to its surface. From meteorites or fragments of asteroids to moon dust.

Apparently the side of the Moon in which the mythical footsteps are found, as well as the flag of the United States, is more likely to be hit by comets and meteorite fragments and to receive the fine rain of dust in suspension. Will that be the final end of the historical footsteps or will the next space missions be like the Israeli one?


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