As a new space race heats up, two researchers from the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas and their colleagues have proposed a new scientific subfield: planetary geoarchaeology, the study of how cultural and natural processes on Earth’s moon, on Mars and across the solar system may be altering, preserving or destroying the material record of space exploration.
“Until recently, we might consider the material left behind during the space race of the mid-20th century as relatively safe,” said Justin Holcomb, postdoctoral researcher at the Kansas Geological Survey, based at the University of Kansas, and lead author on a new paper introducing the concept of planetary geoarchaeology in the journal Geoarchaeology. “However, the material record that currently exists on the moon is rapidly becoming at risk of being destroyed if proper attention isn’t paid during the new space era.”
Since the advent of space exploration, humans have launched more than 6,700 satellites and spacecraft from countries around the globe, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The United States alone accounts for more than 4,500 civil, commercial, governmental and military satellites.
“We’re trying to draw attention to the preservation, study and documentation of space heritage because I do think there’s a risk to this heritage on the moon,” Holcomb said. “The United States is trying to get boots on the moon again, and China is as well. We’ve already had at least four countries accidentally crash into the moon recently. There are a lot of accidental crashes and not a lot of protections right now.”
Holcomb began considering the idea of planetary geoarchaeology during the COVID-19 lockdown. Applying geoarchaeological tools and methods to the movement of people into space and the solar system is a natural extension of the study of human migration on Earth, the focus of the ODYSSEY Archaeological Research Program housed at KGS and directed by Holcomb’s co-author, Rolfe…