Technology & Science

Moon's trash, another's treasure

A group of space enthusiasts wants to preserve objects that have been left on the moon by astronauts.

A group of space enthusiasts is attempting to preserve objects that have been left on the moon by astronauts.

The Lunar Legacy Project, headquartered at the University of New Mexico, has its eye on such moon litter as a Hasselblad camera, air sickness bags, astronaut boots, soil collection tools and plastic wrap.

This July 20, 1969, photo shows Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, right, trudging across the moon's surface, but he left a lot more than footprints behind, according to a space heritage group. ((Associated Press))

Beth O'Leary, co-founder of the group, says she's particularly interested in items such as the lunar laser ranging retro reflector, a device that measures the distance between the moon and Earth by bouncing off light rays. It was left behind by Apollo 11.

Why is all this paraphernalia still on the moon? According to O'Leary, the first priority for astronauts was to collect specimens to take back to Earth. That meant gathering rock and soil samples and leaving behind unnecessary clothing and tools that would weigh down the craft.

"They were told to jettison anything that wasn't necessary," she told CBC's As it Happens.

O'Leary says she's afraid that if the moon becomes a tourist destination, people will remove some of the artifacts they find there, in the same way tourists have walked off with bits of the Parthenon in Greece.

To prevent that, she wants the moon designated a UNESCO world heritage site, a process that involves listing objects left there on state registers, getting these states to write up a historic landmark nomination, then moving the application process to the national realm.

"We all own the moon," O'Leary said. "It wasn't one country that put people on the moon. It was scientists and engineers from all over the world that made it possible for those people to take the first steps.