CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. -- NASA officials have been working out a set of guidelines for the next generation of lunar explorers.
These guidelines, fully acknowledging that it is only a matter of time before people return to the moon, deal with the preservation of artifacts already there.
They also recognize that nobody has put together a formal set of recommendations in the 50 years since the moon landings, and something should be written up sooner rather than later.
NASA officials say they have submitted their document until more formal guidance is developed, perhaps through a multilateral approach.
The NASA document does not represent mandatory U.S. or international requirements, however.
Space agency officials say it's offered to inform lunar spacecraft mission planners interested in helping preserve and protect lunar historic artifacts and potential science opportunities for future missions.
The recommendations are intended to apply to US Government artifacts on the lunar surface.
Those artifacts would include such things as Apollo landing stages and the assorted hardware from the moon missions. Robotic landers such a the Surveyors would be included, as would impact sites for American probes.
The recommendations also cover what NASA calls "specific indicators of U.S. human, human-robotic lunar presence."
That means things like footprints and rover tracks.
NASA has engaged in dialog with commercial and international space agencies to share the document and open the discussions for improvements to the recommendations.
The document is continually studied and revised, with each revision being posted as the shape of projected space traffic continues to evolve.
This year, however, NASA officials chose to publish the document online in time to coincide with the anniversary of the Apollo XI moon landing.
For the space agency, it's both a tribute to the explorers of an earlier time, and a reminder to the rest of us that the next wave of explorers could well be scientists and tourists.