NASA has just released a group of photos showing the Apollo landing sites taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. From an archaeological standpoint, these photos are important for two main reasons. First, they document the current condition of some of the most significant cultural heritage sites in existence. The lunar landing sites certainly should be preserved for future generations, and the first step to preserving any site is determining what condition it is in right now.
Second, photos like these are important because they help improve our understanding of what happens to objects left on the lunar surface. Archaeologists use the term taphonomy to refer to the various decay processes that occur after an artifact or feature enters the archaeological record (i.e. gets abandoned or lost). Understanding these processes is crucial to making sense of the remains that we find in the field. Because we have been exploring space for such a short time, detailed information on long-term environmental processes is hard to come by, and still largely theoretical. This set of photos will help provide the data that future space archaeologists will draw upon.