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Lunar Junk: Who’s in Charge of Cleaning Up the Moon?

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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."

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About Dirkh

  • duane

    Interesting, Dirk. Thanks for the report.

    My solution: just hide the stuff on the dark side of the moon where no one will have to look at it, thereby adopting the tried-and-true policy “You can’t see it from my house.”

  • waitaminnit!

    the Article quotes a source saying – “The lunar surface will be crowded by next year,”

    however, the surface area of the moon is 14658000 square miles or 9.4 billion acres.

    how in the name of Copernicus does anyone expect that much area to be “crowded” by a few tiny payloads from Earth?


    on top of that, ALL the stuff landed becomes the ONLY set of resources available to future trips besides whatever they bring up themselves…again, tiny payloads at best

    find me a venture capitalist with some balls, first thing is to get the Delta Clipper up and running…start with the orbital junk…gather all that sweet salvage payload to a single spot, sell material to the Space Station and future projects

    then start salvaging the Lunar goodies, same purpose…material components for future bases/projects…cheaper and more efficient to utilize the materials already there than ship from Earth…

    /end rant


  • It potentially builds on an existing problem:
    Space Debris a Growing Problem, NASA Report Says
    By Randolph E. Schmid AP Science Writer

    WASHINGTON (AP) – More than 9,000 pieces of space debris are orbiting the Earth, a hazard that can only be expected to get worse in the next few years. And currently there’s no workable and economic way to clean up the mess.

    Space junk measuring 4 inches or more total some 5,500 tons, according to a report by NASA scientists J.-C. Liou and N. L. Johnson in the journal Science.

  • Where are The Clangers when you need them?

  • duane

    Gonzo points out the hyperbole in some of the pronouncements from the space science community. Can you imagine that the 16th century Europeans were concerned about trashing up the Atlantic every time a galleon or a frigate sunk? Nope. The lunar problem pales by comparison. Nevertheless, I estimate that within 18 months there will be a new pot of NASA money available to study the lunar junk “problem.” And there will be a lot more about this behind the scenes.

    Concerning junk in orbit, that’s another matter entirely, and deserves some serious head-scratching. Not so much because it’s getting crowded up there, but because the space trash is moving. Crossing orbits of junk and satellites can result in vehicle malfunction, even total destruction. Then there’s the cascade effect, where collisions of two bits of trash results in four bits of trash, etc.

    It’s not so bad now — there have been three confirmed cases of impact of space debris with satellites. The Chinese ASAT test earlier this year, which constituted a deliberate addition to space debris, increased the junk content by something like 25%. Projections are not favorable.

  • “the surface area of the moon is 14658000 square miles or 9.4 billion acres.”
    Or roughly the size of N. and S. America combined. It’s so big, we don’t have to worry about it! No regulations, no sweat. Who could ever pollute a place that big?

  • duane got it…

    Dirk, read the entire comment, you will note i clearly delineate between Lunar based junk, and the orbiting variety

    i agree with duane that the orbiting Stuff is a MUCH higher priority…hence me pitching a very real and viable solution which is MUCH more cost effective than the current Shuttle program, which has not even begun to meet the need of cleaning up the orbital debris

    EVERY single bit that falls out of the sky due to spendthrift launch ballistics is that much payload that isn’t available to future endeavors

    so spare me the bits about polluting, i’m talking about useful and cost effective recycling of materials to further the cause of exploration and scientific advancement


  • “i’m talking about useful and cost effective recycling of materials to further the cause of exploration and scientific advancement”

    So am I. Effective recycling would certainly spare ALL of us the polluting bits, whether orbital or lunar. The Chinese aren’t just dropping a Christmas ornament and heading home, mind you. They’re bringing tons of stuff and planning to stay for awhile….

  • brian

    Yes, Men are not content with littering the earth with their junk and foulikng itb with toxic wastes, or raping it of its last minerals and trees…now they have to take the whole circus into space! It looks as if the grand plan is to go from world to world like a plague of locusts, raping, pilaging and littering…
    Theyve done it to Mt Everest (Qomolungma)….

  • brian

    The moon, a big place, no regulation…the american dream.

  • Jerry van Veldhoven

    I totally agree with Brian’s comment.
    The same beautifull virgin moon that has been looked at by countless generations before us is now being raped and polluted by “civilized” men for exploitation purposes.
    How can a concerned majority stop this idle minority?