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Going to the moon? Don't touch the artifacts, NASA says

NASA has put out an official document specifying how close any future spacecraft and astronauts visiting the moon can come to the artifacts left there by all U.S. space missions.
Image: Artifact boundary
A photo of the Apollo 11 landing site from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter indicates the 75-meter exclusion zone around the site.NASA
/ Source: Universe Today

Don’t say you haven’t been warned. NASA put out an official document on Thursday specifying how close any future spacecraft and astronauts visiting the moon can come to the artifacts left there by all U.S. space missions, including the Apollo landing sites, robotic landing sites such as Surveyor's, and spacecraft impact sites.

These recommendations are not mandatory — there’s obviously no way to enforce this yet. Instead, the document says the guidelines are "offered to inform lunar spacecraft mission planners interested in helping preserve and protect lunar historic artifacts and potential science opportunities for future missions."

For example, NASA recommends an artifact boundary extending 75 meters (246 feet) from the Apollo 11 lunar module descent stage, and an exclusion zone extending even farther (225 meters, or 738 feet) for the Apollo 17 site.

NASA isn’t expecting a rush of astro-looters to descend upon the moon, but with China discussing a moon landing, and with several Google Lunar X Prize teams hoping to send robotic landers, the space agency wants to make sure nothing from previous missions is disturbed.

"In the 50 years since the first lunar missions, the spaceflight community has not formally provided recommendations to the next generation of lunar explorers on how to preserve the original artifacts and protect ongoing science from the potentially damaging effects of nearby landers,” NASA said in an accompanying press release, saying that they recognize the steadily increasing technical capabilities of spacefaring commercial entities and nations throughout the world that may be on the verge of landing spacecraft on the surface of the Moon.

The document specifies how close another spacecraft can hover, fly over, hop or touch down near landing sites or spacecraft. NASA suggests a "descent/landing boundary" of 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) around lander sites such as the Apollo and Surveyor sites, and a boundary of 500 meters (0.3 miles) around impact sites such as the Ranger crash sites. Spacecraft should not cross that boundary during descent and landing, NASA said.

NASA’s decisions on proximity boundaries were made from recommendations from external experts from the historic, scientific and flight-planning communities and apply to US government artifacts on the lunar surface.

Hardware items aren't the only things included in the "don’t touch" areas: "U.S. human, human-robotic lunar presence, including footprints, rover tracks, etc., although not all anthropogenic indicators are protected as identified in the recommendations," the document says.

NASA says they released this document to open discussions with commercial and international space agencies, and seek any improvements to the recommendations.

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This report was originally published on Universe Today as and was supplemented by msnbc.com.