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As companies plan missions to the Moon, including some that may visit past landing sites, maintaining a comprehensive, authoritative list of lunar heritage sites becomes critical. (credit: PTScientists)

How blockchain technology can track humanity’s lunar heritage sites


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After years of discussion, no formal progress has been made to promulgate internationally recognized, much less enforceable, safeguards of our heritage sites on the Moon. This must change. The question is how? We believe the answer is the For All Moonkind Moon Registry Powered by the TODA Protocol.

The first step in thinking about preservation is obtaining a comprehensive and dynamic record of what’s on the Moon and, ultimately, other celestial bodies. This is not a simple task.

From Luna 2, the first human-made object to impact the Moon in 1959, to the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), which was intentionally crashed into the far side of the Moon in 2014, it is estimated that there are more than 80 sites on our lunar neighbor that bear evidence of human exploratory activity. These are the first archaeological sites with human activity that are not on Earth, and they bear witness to some of the most important technological developments in human history. Moreover, they are, unlike any terrestrial archaeological site, frozen in time, undisturbed by natural elements and untouched by any other humans or any other living organism. In short, they are a treasure trove for archaeologists, historians, sociologists, and scientists.

Efforts to protect this cultural heritage on the Moon are not new. For All Moonkind Advisory Council members Beth Laura O’Leary and Lisa Westwood have been engaged in lunar heritage preservation efforts since 1998, entreating lawmakers and nations to come together to assure “our shared history is not trampled when people revisit the Moon.”1 In 2011, with their help, NASA issued “recommendations”2 to spacefaring entities on “How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Lunar Artifacts.” Recognizing that unilateral rules promulgated by the United States are not internationally enforceable, Henry Hertzfeld and Scott Pace proposed in 2013 that the US enter into protective bilateral and multilateral agreements with other countries that have landed objects on the Moon.3

Others have insisted there is no need for formal agreements. Their arguments are generally twofold: first, they claim that the Outer Space Treaty, ratified by 107 nations and executed by an additional 23, imposes an obligation on all spacefarers to conduct their activities with “due regard” for others. Second, they believe that humans returning to the Moon will behave with common sense, do what’s ethically and morally correct, and naturally steer clear of any heritage sites or artifacts. If only we could trust that just the best parts of human nature would follow our species to the Moon and exhibit “due regard” (whatever that term may actually mean).

Author Andrew Chaikin put it best when he noted in 2008, “We need to think very, very carefully about how we are going to revisit those sites and not destroy the record of the first human explorations of another world… But having said that? Not every footprint on every Apollo site need be preserved.”4

The For All Moonkind Moon Registry will create a discrete record for each of the sites where human-made objects have settled and where evidence of human activity exists, including footprints and rover tracks.

The first step in thinking about preservation is obtaining a comprehensive and dynamic record of what’s on the Moon and, ultimately, other celestial bodies. This is not a simple task. Derek Webber, a For All Moonkind Leadership Board member and former Vice Chair of the Google Lunar X PRIZE judging panel, recalls using various sources, including NASA, books by Philip Stooke,5 Roger Launius,6 Grant Heiken, David Voniam and Bevan French,7 and various Wikipedia sites to identify sites and objects on the Moon. The need to have a single legitimized source for this information cannot be understated.

For All Moonkind is an all-volunteer nonprofit, nongovernmental organization. It is the only organization in the world focused on protecting and preserving human heritage in space. TODAQ provides decentralized solutions to businesses and consumers. And now it is providing those services to For All Moonkind as well, on a pro bono basis.

For All Moonkind and TODAQ are using blockchain technology to create and maintain a decentralized grid-referenced system of potential heritage sites on the Moon. Essentially, the two organizations will map the Moon using cryptographic tools while registering and documenting human cultural artifacts with as many details and specifics as possible. This will be done based on information that is currently publicly available through the United Nations Registry of Objects in Outer Space, NASA, and other national space agencies.

As a decentralized data structure, blockchain intrinsically enforces accountability and immutability to environments where counterparty trust is not required by introducing irrevocable cryptographic records of consensus. Blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) represent an innovative technology that offers new breakthrough possibilities similar in comparison to the Internet. It began along with the development of other Internet applications and gained momentum with Bitcoin and its uses, yet it is a much more robust tool.8

A blockchain is a series of unique transactions applicable to various electronic applications and managed in a peer-to-peer (distributed) network that registers those transactions on a ledger in a consistent and reliable manner via a consensus mechanism that cannot be altered once the process is completed.9 This process allows authentication guided by specific rules (protocol), but without third-party intermediaries via a secured (cryptographic) method, easing the data-flows between participants.10 The TODA Protocol which utilizes this blockchain technology is particularly suited for the development and implementation of the For All Moonkind Moon Registry as it offers security, privacy, scalability, efficiency, and reliability.

Coordination with the international historic preservation community will be essential in ensuring the accuracy, integrity, and proper treatment of the information contained within this database.

The For All Moonkind Moon Registry will create a discrete record for each of the sites where human-made objects have settled and where evidence of human activity exists, including footprints and rover tracks. Each record will represent an append-only, cryptographically-secured history of events associated with a site or artifact (the “site formation process” and “culture history,” as it is termed by archaeologists.) It will also include an educational module that teaches the concepts and importance of site stewardship and historic preservation.

For All Moonkind is committed to ensuring that use of this technology is compliant with all internationally-recognized best practices regarding the preservation and protection of terrestrial heritage sites. Indeed, coordination with the international historic preservation community will be essential in ensuring the accuracy, integrity, and proper treatment of the information contained within this database.

Once added through a procedure that ensures the accuracy of the information submitted and the credibility of those who submit information, the site and its history are completely immutable, permanently and transparently telling the origin and ongoing story of each. This could potentially include, for example:

  • An administrative event such as an official—and internationally recognized—designation as a human heritage site that should remain undisturbed, a scientific research site that should be revisited to collect data, or a less-essential site that should simply be recorded before it is disturbed;
  • A verification event: first-hand confirmation, for example, of the existence, location, and condition of a site or artifact by new visitors or from new vantage points;
  • A natural physical event, such as changes to the site over time that may be caused by meteorite or atmospheric impacts;
  • An intentional physical event, including approved revisits, the data collected, and specific detail regarding how a site was disturbed by the visitor;
  • An unintentional or unsanctioned physical event, including impacts from uncontrolled hard landings or other intentional and illicit disturbances.

The For All Moonkind Moon Registry will be dynamic, allowing for previously unaccounted for items to be added. For example, it is rumored, but not confirmed, that a ceramic chip etched with artwork from Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and others was covertly attached to a leg of the Intrepid, the Apollo 12 lunar lander. Is it there? Someday we will find out, and when we do, it will be added to the database for the benefit of generations to come.

And of course, the For All Moonkind Moon Registry can be updated with all new missions, starting with India’s second planned mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-2, currently set for launch in October 2018.

Fundamental features of blockchain make the For All Moonkind Moon Registry “future proof” by taking a record of something potentially changeable and making it immutable, thereby preserving and securing the integrity of all of the information regarding these sites and objects in perpetuity – an important factor that is in line with many of the goals of archaeology overall.

There is a poetic justice in utilizing innovative blockchain technology to help us preserve the shared history that forms the cradle of our spacefaring future.

Blockchain also solves the problem of a lack of interoperability between all stakeholders, while allowing the availability of valuable information without reliance in a central authority. This powerful feature inherent in distributed ledger technology enables the For All Moonkind Moon Registry to provide accountability of human heritage records in space, lowering the requirement for trust in centralized agencies, sovereign actors, and each other.

Together, all these features allow the For All Moonkind Moon Registry to provide a tangible framework within which to inclusively and transparently address vital issues related to preservation and property. It will reinforce the universality of our shared history of exploration and discovery and lay a dynamic, transparent foundation and framework for future human and societal interactions with the Moon and space.

Change is as inevitable as it is exhilarating. We are bearing witness to an era where rapidly evolving technology is almost constantly improving the human experience. There is a poetic justice in utilizing innovative blockchain technology to help us preserve the shared history that forms the cradle of our spacefaring future. The For All Moonkind Moon Registry is but another small step toward our goal, to preserve our common human heritage in outer space and thereby promote our sustainable evolution into a multiplanetary species.

Endnotes

  1. Beth O’Leary, Lisa Westwood, et al. “Stepping Lightly on the Moon: Anticipating Tourists, Researchers Want to Preserve Apollo 11 Sites,” The Washington Post, July 17, 2012.
  2. NASA’s Recommendation to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Lunar Artifacts, July 20, 2011.
  3. Henry Hertzfeld and Scott Pace, “International Cooperation on Human Lunar Heritage,” Sciencemag.org, November 29, 2013.
  4. Leonard David, “Moon Museum: New Race to Save Space Relics,” Space.com July 25, 2008.
  5. The International Atlas of Lunar Exploration, Cambridge University Press 2008.
  6. Smithsonian Atlas of Space Exploration, Smithsonian 2009.
  7. Lunar Sourcebook: A User’s Guide to the Moon, Cambridge University Press 1991.
  8. See, Hileman, G. & Rauchs, M. 2017. Global blockchain benchmarking study; Cambridge Center for Alternative Finance; Iansiti, Marco; Lakhani, Karim R. (January 2017), “The Truth About Blockchain.” Harvard Business Review; Bambara, J. & Allen, P. (2018). Blockchain, 1-2; Bernard Marr, A Very Brief History of Blockchain Technology Everyone Should Read; Klint Finley, The WIRED Guide to the Blockchain.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.

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