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Apollo Planetary Historical Preserve

One of my favourite space heritage scenes from science fiction:

Tranquility Base is by far the biggest tourist attraction on Luna, and the reason is its historical significance, since it is the spot where a human foot first trod another planet. Right? If you thought that, maybe I could interest you in some prime real estate on Ganymede with a great view of the volcano. The real draw at Tranquility is just over the horizon and goes by the name of Armstrong Park. Since the park is within the boundaries of Apollo Planetary Historical Preserve, the Lunar Chamber of Commerce can boast that X million people visit the site of the first Lunar landing every year, but the ads feature the roller coaster, not the LEM.

A good number of those tourists do find the time to ride the train over to the Base itself and spend a few minutes gazing at the forlorn little lander, and an hour hurrying through the nearby museum, where most of the derelict space hardware from 1960 to the Invasion is on display. Then the kids begin to whine that they’re bored, and by then the parents probably are, too, and it’s back to the land of over-priced hot dogs and not-so cheap thrills.

You can’t take a train directly to the base. No accident, that. It dumps you at the foot of the thirty-story explosion of lights that is the sign for and entrance to the Terminal Seizure, what the ads call “The Greatest Sphincter Tightener in the Known Universe.” I got on it once, against my better judgment, and I guarantee it will show you things they didn’t tell you about in astronaut school. It’s a twenty-minute MagLev, six-gee, free trajectory descent into the tenth circle of Hell that guarantees one blackout and seven gray hairs or your money back. It’s actually two coasters–the Grand Mal and the Petit Mal–one of them obviously for wimps. They are prepared to hose out the Grand Mal cars after every ride. If you understand the attraction of that, please don’t come to my home to explain it to me. I’m armed, and considered dangerous.

I walked as quickly as I could past the sign-30,000,000 (Count ‘Em!) Thirty Million Lights!-and noticed the two-hour line for the Grand Mal ride was cleverly concealed from the ticket booth. I made it to the shuttle train, having successfully avoided the blandishments of a thousand hucksters selling everything from inflatable Neil dolls to talking souvenir pencil sharpeners to put a point on your souvenir pencils. I boarded the train, removed a hunk of cotton candy from a seat, and sat. I was wearing a disposable paper jumper, so what the hell?

The Base itself is an area large enough to play a game of baseball/6. Those guys never got very far from their ship, so it made no sense to preserve any more of the area. It is surrounded by a stadium-like structure, un-roofed, that is four levels of viewing area with all the windows facing inward. On top is an un-pressurized level.

When Armstrong and Aldrin came in peace for all mankind, it was envisioned that their landing site, in the vacuum of space, would remain essentially unchanged for a million years, if need be. Never mind that the exhaust of lift-off knocked the flag over and tore a lot of the gold foil on the landing stage. The footprints would still be there. And they are. Hundreds of them, trampling a crazy pattern in the dust, going away from the lander, coming back, none of them reaching as far as the visitors’ gallery. There are no other footprints to be seen. The only change the museum curators worked at the site were to set the flag back up, and suspend an ascentstage module about a hundred feet above the landing stage, hanging from invisible wires. It’s not the Apollo 11 ascent stage; that one crash landed long ago.

Things are often not what they seem.

Nowhere in the free literature or the thousands of plaques and audio-visual displays in the museum will you hear of the night one hundred and eighty years ago when ten members of the Delta Chi Delta fraternity, Luna University Chapter, came around on their cycles. This was shortly after the Invasion, and the site was not guarded as it is now. There had just been a rope around the landing area, not even a visitors’ center; postInvasion Lunarians didn’t have time for luxuries like that.

The Delts tipped the lander over and dragged it about twenty feet. Their cycles wiped out most of the footprints. They were going to steal the flag and take it back to their dorm, but one of them fell off his mount, cracked his faceplate, and went to that great pledge party in the sky. Psuits were not as safe then as they are now. Horseplay in a p-suit was not a good idea.

But not to worry. Tranquility Base was one of the most documented places in the history of history. Tens of thousands of photos existed, including very detailed shots from orbit. Teams of selenolography students spent a year restoring the Base. Each square meter was scrutinized, debates raged about the order in which footprints had been laid down, then two guys went out there and tromped around with replica Apollo moonboots, each step measured by laser, and were hauled out on a winch when they were through. Presto! An historical re-creation passing as the real thing. This is not a secret, but very few people know about it. Look it up.

- Steel Beach

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Founded spacearchaeology.org to promote the emerging fields of space archaeology and space heritage.

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