National Academies Press: OpenBook

Organic Matter and the Moon, by Carl Sagan (1961)

Chapter: I. INTRODUCTION

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Suggested Citation:"I. INTRODUCTION." National Research Council. 1961. Organic Matter and the Moon, by Carl Sagan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18476.
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I. INTRODUCTION The immediate future seems to hold both the promise and the responsibility of extensive contact between man-made objects and the Moon. Current United States plans tentatively call for the soft land- ing on the Moon of instrumentation designed to detect indigenous organisms or organic matter, possibly in a roving vehicle, by 1964-67 in the Surveyor and Prospector Programs. The Soviet Union apparently has the capability of performing similar experi- ments at an earlier date. It is clear that positive results would give significant information on such problems as the early history of the Solar System, the chemical composition of matter in the re- mote past, the origin of life on Earth, and the distribution of life beyond the Earth. By the same token, biological contamination of the Moon would represent an unparalleled scientific disaster, elimi- nating possible approaches to these problems. Because of the Moon's unique situation as a large unweathered body at an intermediate dis- tance from the Sun, scientific opportunities lost on the Moon may not be recoupable elsewhere. This monograph is concerned with the possibility of finding indigenous lunar organisms or organic matter, and with the pos- sibility of their contamination by deposited terrestrial organisms or organic matter. A summary of some of the conclusions of this monograph has been presented previously (Sagan, 1960a, 1960b).

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The immediate future seems to hold both the promise and the responsibility of extensive contact between man-made objects and the Moon.

Current United States plans tentatively call for the soft landing on the Moon of instrumentation designed to detect indigenous organisms or organic matter, possibly in a roving vehicle, by 1964-67 in the Surveyor and Prospector Programs. The Soviet Union apparently has the capability of performing similar experiments at an earlier date. It is clear that positive results would give significant information on such problems as the early history of the Solar System, the chemical composition of matter in the remote past, the origin of life on Earth, and the distribution of life beyond the Earth. By the same token, biological contamination of the Moon would represent an unparalleled scientific disaster, eliminating possible approaches to these problems. Because of the Moon's unique situation as a large unweathered body at an intermediate distance from the Sun, scientific opportunities lost on the Moon may not be recoupable elsewhere.

This monograph is concerned with the possibility of finding indigenous lunar organisms or organic matter, and with the possibility of their contamination by deposited terrestrial organisms or organic matter.

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