Wait a Minute!

Wait a minute!

A number of Moon exploration missions by numbers of nations are planned for the next decade. The target areas of the Moon being eyed are likely to be a handful of small sites of interest, to carry out science investigations as well as process lunar materials to churn out construction materials, rocket fuel, oxygen and water, etc.

Image credit: NASA

Is there potential for creating risks of crowding and interference at these special lunar locales?

 

A research paper explores that prospect.

“Concentrated lunar resources: imminent implications for governance and justice,” has been made available by The Royal Society in the United Kingdom. The paper appeared in a special issue of the journal Philosophical Transaction A, published in 2020.

Image credit: JAXA/NHK/Paul Spudis

Small regions

“Many of the useful and valuable resources on the Moon are concentrated into a modest number (tens) of quite small regions (in the order of a few kilometers),” the research paper notes.

Locations of interest include the Peaks of Eternal Light, the coldest of the cold traps on the Moon and smooth areas on the lunar far side.

“Over the next decade, forms of interference and related disputes and conflicts over these concentrated resources may arise, as many actors, sovereign, philanthropic and commercial, descend onto just a handful of small, high-value sites on the lunar surface,” the research paper suggests.

Image credit: NASA

Lead author is astrophysicist Martin Elvis of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Need for action

“The need for action is perhaps most acutely felt by the astronomy community,” the paper explains. “If astronomers do not take the initiative to identify and raise awareness of the scientific and public interest in protecting unique lunar features now, they may find themselves unable to do so once these features are under threat from interference and crowding.”

Concept art credit: Volodymyr Vustyansky

 

Astronomers will find common cause with other scientists, such as astrobiologists, and other researchers for whom planetary protection measures are crucial. “The scientific community today faces both an opportunity and a responsibility to help guard precious lunar sites from the irreversible damage threatened by crowding and interference,” the paper observes.

Extraterrestrial commons

When is the appropriate time to begin developing a governance framework? Now says Elvis and colleagues, suggesting that a study of commons on Earth can provide lessons applicable to efforts at governing lunar sites of interest.

Lessons from the management and mismanagement of terrestrial commons, the paper adds, suggest that “action should be taken now rather than later, or at least now as well as later, to develop the governance structures needed to prevent (and later on contain) avoidable and undesirable problems of crowding and interference.”

Image credit: For All Moonkind

Diverse actors

How to responsibly coordinate diverse actors’ activities on the Moon requires recognizing and accommodating their distinct interests and purposes.

“Any proposed governance arrangement may have to contend with irreducible practical and conceptual tensions between different actors’ designs: scientific, commercial and human-exploration activities may often be incompatible with each other,” the paper explains. “Moreover, it is likely that these varied actors’ plans are best served by different governance arrangements.”

To read the full paper – “Concentrated lunar resources: imminent implications for governance and justice” – go to:

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsta.2019.0563

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