So you thought sending machines to the moon was all about some guy named Neil "One Small Step For Man" Armstrong and the Apollo program back in the Sixties? Think again. Even though President's Bush's "Man-Moon-Mars" pipe dream hasn't exactly ignited the nation's enthusiasm, a lot of equipment is going to be launched at the moon by China, Japan, and a host of other countries in the next ten years or so. At present, at least seven nations have announced plans to crash stuff into the moon. Will they pack out their trash like good campers?
"The lunar surface will be crowded by next year," said JN Goswamy of the Indian Space Research Organization, after various nations divulged their moon plans at the International Astronautical Congress in Hyderabad.
According to the October 12th edition of Science (subscription required), the French are in favor of designating a lunar wilderness preservation site, where nobody dumps anything, while the Chinese are currently the only nation with a disposal plan: Pick one of those handy craters and turn it into a solid waste dump.
Later this month, the Japanese are scheduled to crash a remote-sensing satellite on the moon, followed by China's launch of several orbiters for surface mapping soon after. Not to be left behind, India will add its Chandrayaan-I orbiter complete with lunar probe. After that, the British and the Italians plan to join in the traffic jam.
The U.S also has grand plans for an International Space Station, to be used as a shuttle platform for trips to the moon. Germany will launch a souped-up miniature ATV in early 2008. And so it goes, the plethora of announcements representing only those plans that are already off the drawing board.
Bernard Foing, director of the International Lunar Exploration Working Group in the Netherlands, said that the Apollo missions began the mess decades ago, by leaving several hundred pounds worth of gear behind.
Roger-Maurice Bonnet, head of the Committee on Space Research in France, told Science that without an "exit policy from the moon, it will be destroyed sooner [rather] than later." Noting the plans for increased activity on the fragile surface, Bonnet said that there was an urgent need for "increased cooperation and coordination among countries to ensure that there is no pollution of the lunar environment."