While it may not mean much to us in 2011, perhaps at some future date if the human race achieves that level of space travel pilots nearing the moon may hear the words broadcast over their ships’ radios, “This is the Lunar patrol. You have been detected nearing the forbidden zone. Please turn back immediately.” And the policy making that sci-fi sound-byte a reality is being enacted now according to the first land restriction to place certain areas of the moon “off-limits.” And though it may not be enforceable now, the reasons for it are promising as they happen only at the forefront of a contest to put a robot on the Lunar surface from a privately funded organization. Of course it also raises some suspicion about why some areas would be considered “off limits” to begin with.
New Zealand news outlet Sunlive reported on the move, which would ultimately make NASA, the only space program to ever put a human on the Moon the arbiter of where people could and could not go on the Lunar surface. But if it sounds like a terrible idea or the exercising of power far outside of NASA’s jurisdiction, it may not be as bad as it sounds.
In reality, NASA does have prospective hopes for studying the survival of bacteria in space from where debris including discarded food packet residue that was left behind in the wake of the original Apollo 11 spacecraft when the first crew sent to the moon left. While this might not seem like much, if bacteria from Earth did somehow survive on the moon, it could tell a great deal about the conditions of the Lunar surface and the potential for other efforts to seek out what can and cannot survive there. And if nothing else there may one day be a practical use for it as well, such as having substantial space for growing bacteria for use in pharmaceuticals and possibly even a genetically engineered sort of food or fuel while on extended missions to and from the moon.
Of course plans such as these are far beyond the scope of NASA currently now that the space shuttle program has been canceled. But the common misconception about the shuttle program’s cancellation is that it will not one day be replaced by another one to get humans into space without the assistance of international efforts and private organizations. NASA could, if they reignite their aspirations to continue exploring through the use of people in space, still have quite a few missions in its future. Of course that replacement to the shuttle program would have to be more advanced than its predecessor and solve many of the problems that ultimately grounded the space shuttles for good. Will we see that in future endeavors?
Of course there are some theories that NASA may actually be setting up these forbidden zones with the intention of keeping previous discoveries secret including resource caches of potentially useful materials, and the possible cover-up of a discovered extraterrestrial civilization.