When a NASA spacecraft rammed into the moon in October, it tossed up a hard-to-see plume of lunar material.
But the event also stirred an observable cloud of public anxiety and protests in some quarters about ?bombing? the moon, a backlash that may hint at a rising ?Friends of the Moon? movement.
On Oct. 9, the Lunar CRater Observing and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) experiment created twin impacts on the moon?s surface in a search for water ice. Scientists remain busy at work analyzing data to assess whether water ice was kicked-up by the event. Given a human return to the moon, such a resource could help sustain future explorers there.
Still, not everybody was upbeat about beating up the moon.
All the talk about bombing the moon prompted science writer Pete Spotts of the Christian Science Monitor to make his own nose-dive into Webster?s Dictionary to pinpoint the definition of ?bomb? ? ?an explosive device used to detonate under specific conditions.?
That meaning incited Spotts to scold reporters, chiding them to stop misusing and misinterpreting the word in LCROSS mission coverage.
Similar in view is NASA?s Jennifer Heldmann, lead for the LCROSS Observation Campaign at NASA?s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.
?On LCROSS there are no explosives?there?s no bomb. So we?re not bombing the Moon,? she told SPACE.com prior to the crash. In reality, the moon is regularly hit with impacts that release the sort of magnitude of energy as realized with LCROSS.
So LCROSS wasn?t doing anything new to the moon that doesn?t happen already, Heldmann emphasized, evidenced by its cratered appearance after being hit with objects the past 4 1/2 billion years or so.
Shock and awe
But others found unnerving aspects to the LCROSS slam dunk.
In the Huffington Post, screenwriter Amy Ephron called it ?NASA?s own version of shock and awe? and put in motion a ?Help Save the Moon? Twitter Page in the hope that readers ?can convince NASA not to try any further experiments of this kind,? she wrote.
?Well, I for one, don?t like explosions. Call me a pacifist, call me cautious, call me an environmentalist, or call me something worse, I don?t really care,? Ephron explained.
PC World Blogger, Jeff Bertolucci, came up with his own ?possible, covert goals? of why NASA bombed the Moon. His self-admitted lighthearted look included:
? To destroy secret alien moon bases on the far side
? Hate high tides? So does NASA
? NASA engineers love demolition derbies
Others took a less jocular view of NASA?s LCROSS effort.
The Chicago Surrealist Movement put its muscle behind a ?Stop NASA From Bombing the Moon? campaign.
That crusade called for ?Lunadarity forever!? and included a petition drive on Care2 ? billed as an online community of people making a difference in healthy and green living, human rights and animal welfare.
For example, Care2 posted petitions embrace support for climate action to protecting polar bears from global warming, as well as regulating toxic coal ash as hazardous waste.
In this case, the moon petition tagged the NASA experiment as ?a hostile act of aggression and a violent intrusion upon our closest and dearest celestial neighbor.?
Furthermore, the appeal flagged the LCROSS mission as leading to ?the exploitation of resources and the colonization of territory without regard for ecosystems or indigenous peoples, and clearly the moon is the next territory coveted by imperialists.?
At last look, some 560 had responded to the anti-NASA bombing the moon petition, over half-way to a 1,000 person sign-up goal.
?There are real issues related to lunar preservation and silly issues. The concern about LCROSS is in the latter category,? countered Chris McKay, a space scientist at NASA?s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
McKay said that impacts the size of the LCROSS crash are probably happening naturally on the moon every few decades. ?A small crater in a crater saturated surface is hardly environmental destruction,? he told SPACE.com.
But for McKay there are serious issues still to be dealt with in terms of future utilization of the moon.
A plan to mine Helium 3 from the moon to power fusion energy plants that we don?t even have yet is one such issue, McKay said. Another is the preservation of NASA?s six Apollo moon landing sites.
McKay added that ?a real issue for scientists is the creation of a temporary atmosphere [on the moon] due to rocket exhaust. I?ve seen estimates that it would take decades to subside.?
There is an upshot. McKay said he doesn?t think there are any serious biological issues with either forward contamination or back contamination, so repeated travel back and forth between Earth and the moon shouldn?t pose too big a risk in that respect.
Cultural and natural landscape
?Whether you agree or disagree with the protests about the LCROSS mission, it shows that the moon is perceived as a cultural place as well as a celestial body orbiting Earth,? said Beth Laura O?Leary of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. ?The moon is seen as part of both a cultural and natural landscape that may be harmed.?
O?Leary is co-editor of a new book ?Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology, and Heritage? recently issued by CRC Press.
In reviewing the feelings of those expressing LCROSS outrage, O?Leary said they saw the mission as morally wrong. This is in contrast with previous perceptions, she told SPACE.com.
?The idea of sending a spacecraft -- robotic or human piloted -- to the moon was viewed in the 1950s and 1960s as a legitimate scientific exploration, although it was firmly set in the context of the Cold War,? she said. ?The sentiment? is that it is a bomb site not a crash site and that with the LCROSS mission we are disturbing the natural order of the universe - from changing the tides to committing a sacrilege.?
?Some feel it is a violation of the United Nations Outer Space Treaty,? she added.?
O?Leary said that what is being expressed are some current sentiments which move parallel to, but are in conflict with, the commercial interests in exploring and exploiting the Moon?s resources in the near future.
?For space archaeologists, the material cultural and impact area of LCROSS on the moon exist as artifacts and features of an archaeological site. It is one of the few recently created sites on the moon and is part of our space heritage,? O?Leary said.
LCROSS joins other lunar locales that are cultural resources on the moon, O?Leary added. ?The event and the assemblage have many complex layers of meaning indicative of our human historical perspective about space in the 21st century,? she concluded.
- Video - Last Moon Moments of LCROSS
- Slam-Bang Coverage! NASA's LCROSS Moon Crash
- The Greatest Lunar Crashes Ever
Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than four decades. He is past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society's Ad Astra and Space World magazines and has written for SPACE.com since 1999.