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NASA's director of lunar commercial services to give talk at NMSU about protecting moon artifacts

Recent NASA images show actual footprint paths made when Apollo astronauts explored the surface of the moon are still there. NASA wants to make sure these and other artifacts from U.S. moon landings are preserved for future generations. The organization recently published guidelines for future commercial spacefarers.

NASA scientists and a Smithsonian Institution historian join NMSU anthropology professor Beth O'Leary and NASA director of lunar commercial services Robert Kelso (third and fourth from left) at a historic launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center. The group is part of a panel of experts who helped to develop NASA guidelines to protect Apollo artifacts on the moon. (Submitted photo)

Robert Kelso, NASA's director of lunar commercial services, will give a talk at New Mexico State University titled "Return to the Apollo sites... Protecting USG Artifacts on the Moon" at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, in O'Donnell Hall, Room 111.

With 35 years' experience at Johnson Space Center and 25 missions as Space Shuttle flight director to his credit, Kelso developed a set of guidelines intended to safeguard the historic and scientific value of more than three-dozen "heritage sites" on the moon. A greater urgency for guidelines was spurred by the Google Lunar X Prize's offer of $20 million to any private team that lands a robotic rover on the moon's surface and an additional $4 million for landing near one of the manned landing sites and snapping pictures of artifacts there.

"It has been over 40 years since we last had landers on the surface of the moon. The images of that flight hardware and the six American flags left at the Apollo sites are as they looked four decades ago...the last time we saw them, Kelso said.

"As the small commercial landers make preparations for possible visits to these historic sites, how do we protect these culturally significant sites from damage so that we can inspect them historically and scientifically?"

NMSU anthropology professor Beth O'Leary, who will introduce Kelso and talk about her efforts to preserve the Apollo 11 site, has been identified as a leader in the emerging field of space heritage and archaeology. She is among the scientists Kelso consulted when developing the guidelines to protect moon artifacts.

O'Leary has spent more than a decade working with historians and archaeologists researching how to study and curate human artifacts on the moon. With a small grant from NASA and the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, O'Leary spearheaded efforts to gain protection for the Apollo 11 landing site.

"Over 10 years ago, my cultural resource management students and I began the Lunar Legacy Project to investigate the Apollo 11 site on the Moon," said O'Leary. "In April 2010, with six anthropology grad students, we successfully nominated the Apollo 11 site to the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties."

New Mexico joined California, which was the first to add Tranquility Base to its state historic register. O'Leary is currently working to gain a national historic landmark designation for the Apollo 11 artifacts.

"It is exciting that Rob Kelso is coming to NMSU to brief our community on NASA's recommendations for preserving the scientific and historic values of artifacts on the Moon," she said.

NASA's guidelines propose the Apollo 11 and 17 sites remain off-limits, with ground-travel buffers and no-fly zones to avoid spraying rocket exhaust or dust onto historic equipment. Other areas may be open for limited activity. Although not legally binding because the lunar surface has no owner, NASA's guidance for teams planning to land on the moon will help preserve and protect the lunar landing sites.

Kelso's talk is free and open to the public. A parking permit for off-campus visitors may be obtained at https://corridor.nmsu.edu/auxadmin/ParkingForms/epermit.aspx.