For-Profit Moon Mission Slated for October

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The U.S. government agencies granted TransOrbital permission to launch their moon shoot in September 2002, but only after the company agreed not to harm the lunar environment and to preserve historical sites, such as the original unmanned U.S. and Russian lunar landing sites from the late 1950s and 1960s.

Nevertheless, the pending commercialization of the moon is causing some critics to raise questions about the ethics of such endeavors.

"A generation ago, our interest in space and the moon was driven primarily by scientific curiosity and an interest in understanding what was out there," said Margaret McLean of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in California.

"But our voyages of discovery seem to be giving way to voyages of profit, of launching a true 'pay load' to the moon—i.e. a load of anything whatsoever as long as someone pays for it," she said.

To the Moon, For a Price

After TransOrbital was granted permission to fly last September, the firm readied a test satellite for a December launch. The event went off flawlessly, according to Laurie, who said that the ICBM and the satellite separation system worked as planned.

The successful launch put TransOrbital on target to begin routine moon travel starting in October 2003.

To pay for the trips to the moon, TransOrbital intends to sell video and photography of the launch process, "Earthrise" as seen from the moon, and the lunar landscape to the entertainment industry.

The high resolution lunar video and photographic imagery, which is expected to captured lunar features and details as small as one meter (3.3 feet) in size, which will provide unprecedented detail for movies and video games, the firm says. The images will cover the entire lunar surface.

Earthlings can send personal items to the lunar surface at the rate of US $2,500 per gram. In addition, written messages up the 300 characters long can be etched onto a moon-bound disk for U.S. $16.95. For U.S. $13 more, consumers can send a text message of 9,600 characters.

The thought of sending all this stuff to the moon causes McLean, the author of a 1998 paper on the ethics of lunar commercialization, to question human responsibility towards the treatment of the moon.

As a guiding principle, McLean suggests that people should leave the natural world, including the moon and other parts of the universe, no worse than they found it. Under such a premise, sending business cards, photos, and ashes to the moon is just as unethical as leaving such items behind on the floor of the Grand Canyon.

"As the only Earthly creatures which can impact the moon, we have a special responsibility to recognize our propensity for throwing the balance of nature off kilter and actively guard against it," she said.

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