TIME: UM Law Professor, Space Expert Featured in Moon’s Historic Site Fight Article

‘We Need That Boot Print.’ Inside the Fight to Save the Moon’s Historic Sites Before It’s Too Late

By Currie Engel/TIME

Half a century after humankind first walked on the moon, our sole natural satellite is becoming a much busier place. NASA wants to make a return trip, as do private American space companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX. China has a rover exploring the far side of the moon, while countries from Israel to Russia are planning lunar missions of their own.

All that traffic has some experts worried about what might happen to the moon’s most historic sites. In part because the moon has no weather to speak of, artifacts left there tend to be well-preserved. If you visited the moon today, you could find everything from the three “moon buggies” that NASA astronauts left behind to Neil Armstrong’s footprints at Tranquility Base. But those sites and artifacts could still be disturbed by a careless visitor, like an off-roading truck ripping up a pristine beach.

“You can go up there and run over those boot prints or those rubber tracks with impunity,” says Michelle Hanlon, an air and space law instructor at the University of Mississippi. Hanlon is a co-founder of For All Moonkind, a non-profit that seeks to protect what she calls important “human heritage” sites and artifacts in outer space.

“We need [Armstrong’s] boot print to remind us of how amazing it is that we got there,” says Hanlon, who became a space lawyer after her sons sparked an interest in the cosmos. “And to be inspired by that to do even more.”

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