For the first time in history, plots of land outside of the confines of our small planet, are set to be given World Heritage Site status, future-proofing these areas to help protect them against any disturbance than might occur when we expand our borders to establish legitimate colonies on other worlds.
This was signed in by members of the US congress as part of the Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act, which will bring about protection for all Apollo landing sites, 11 through 17, preserving artefacts from the landings, including footprints and touch down sites.
This bill highlights the fact that while in the history of man, we have aggressively expanded our borders and tamed the wilderness, we aren’t quite the same people as we once were. We now manage the environment far more conservatively – even if we have a lot of work to do in bringing everyone onboard with that ideal. If we take that fresh perspective with us into space and to other planets, we might stand more of a chance of preserving their natural beauty, whilst still making use of their natural resources.
As Wired points out though, there’s also the problems of space debris. It’s not just an eyesore and a potential pollutant for other worlds and our own, but it’s making it more difficult to launch into space, because there’s so much junk up there. According to official statistics, there’s over 300,000 objects in near-earth orbit that are larger than 1cm in size and these can cause major problems for a space-craft travelling at tens of thousands of miles an hour. At that speed, even semi-hard objects become stationary space bullets, just waiting to puncture a shuttle or rocket.
This is a problem that is likely to worsen with the advent of more affordable space travel bringing the commercial word onboard. Now that several companies are pushing to get their own vehicles into space and therefore benefit commercially, the bottom line will become more important and if that means leaving detritus in space, it’ll happen.
That’s why we now find ourselves in the odd position, where it seems we need to protect the environment of space, despite how empty it seems.
But what’s a space faring species to do in the wake of so much garbage? Several options have been suggested, including laser disintegration, realistic versions of the Wall-E robot, that could collect space trash. There’s also an argument for somehow pulling errant space waste into a low-orbit dive that would see it burn up in the atmosphere, but for some of the larger pieces that may not be viable.
And then there’s the legal problems to consider. The original owners of the junk you’re burning up might want it left there as technically, they retain ownership and rights over anything they left in space. This seems like something that could quite easily be changed though. Just like if I go and leave my car on the side of the road somewhere, eventually, someone in an official capacity can have it towed away. Space fly-tipping should probably be restricted more than it is at the moment, but a starting point could be to add a time limit to any space junk left floating around. If you leave it there long enough, someone else is allowed to claim it, or destroy it.
KitGuru Says: This is something that we need to work out before we begin terraforming other planets, or leaving a long lasting impact on these eco-systems. As far as we know at the moment, no life exists there, but we don’t want to be the space faring equivalents of the first Galapagos explorers, eating up (quite literally) the environment’s resources without care. We don’t know what we may discover on these worlds in the future, but if we don’t set out a precedent of treading carefully, it seems likely that we’ll be unpleasantly surprised to see what we’ve stepped on.