“We are the lucky generation. We first broke our earthly bonds and ventured into space. From our descendants — perches on other planets or distant space cities, they will look back at our achievement with wonder at our courage and audacity and with appreciation at our accomplishments, which assured the future in which they live.”
— Walter Cronkite, CBS News anchor, quoted in an Air & Space Magazine article, 1 July 2007.
On 16 July 1969 a Saturn V rocket lifted off on a historic voyage. Four days later, millions of people watched as the first human footprints were set on the Moon’s desolate surface. They were envoys of all humankind, propelled to the heavens on the ingenuity and perseverance of thousands of scientists, engineers, tool workers and dreamers from around the globe. The boot prints have been undisturbed for nearly 50 years. Preserved by the vacuum of space – and by the fact that no human has returned to the Moon since 1972. But that’s about to change.
It is clear that we stand on the threshold of the spacefaring age, and that our Moon is about to get very crowded. Japan, China, Russia and the United States all are weighing manned Moon missions within the next decade. Private manned missions may get there even sooner on the backs of SpaceX or the Google Lunar XPRIZE Program. More robots will be deployed to the Moon by nations and private interests as early as 2018. And Europe and China continue to tease about collaboration on a potential Moon colony. It is not difficult to imagine the damage an autonomous vehicle or an errant astronaut – an explorer, colonist or tourist – could do to one of the Apollo Lunar Landing Sites, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
What can we do?