One Small Step For Preserving Apollo's History on Moon

One Small Step For Preserving Apollo's History on Moon

A little known movement has been afoot for many years to find a way to protect the Apollo lunar landing sites and the flags, footprints and everything else left behind by the astronauts from intentional or unintentional destruction. As lunar exploration becomes popular once again – if not by the United States government (we will find out for sure on Monday), then by China, India and other countries and even commercial interests – protecting these sites is becoming a more urgent matter. The State of California took a small step yesterday towards protecting Apollo 11 artifacts.

Since no one owns the Moon – in accordance with Article II of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty – identifying a binding method to protect the sites themselves has been a challenge. “Objects” are somewhat easier to protect because Article VIII of the Treaty says that “Ownership of objects launched into outer space, including objects landed or constructed on a celestial body, and of their component parts, is not affected by their presence in outer space or on a celestial body or by their return to the Earth. Such objects or component parts found beyond the limits of the State Party to the Treaty on whose registry they are carried shall be returned to that State Party, which shall, upon request, furnish identifying data prior to their return.”

The California State Historical Resources Commission took a step in the direction of preserving Apollo 11 artifacts on the Moon yesterday, voting unanimously to add what the New York Times derisively called “Moon junk” to its list of protected resources.

Preserving the Apollo landing sites, however, is more difficult. What entity is empowered to designate a location on the Moon as an historical site to be preserved? The late Tom Rogers, well known in space policy circles for, among other things, his early and sustained enthusiasm for space tourism, published an article in Space Policy in February 2004 calling on the United Nations to designate the Apollo 11 landing site as a “U.N. World Heritage Site.” The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is responsible for such designations.

According to MSNBC, California’s move yesterday was part of a five-state effort to achieve that very goal. The other states, all key players in the Apollo program, are Alabama, Florida, New Mexico and Texas, according to the report. The Lunar Legacy Project at New Mexico State University is trying to preserve Apollo 11 archeological information and get the World Heritage designation for its lunar landing site.

One question sure to be raised is how far this historical preservation on the Moon should go. Perhaps all of the Apollo landing sites, but what about the robotic Lunokhod rovers that the Soviet Union landed there? They also are historic. Or the many other spacecraft that made soft landings. What about debris fields from those that impacted the surface? The debate is likely to intensify when and if trips to the Moon are close at hand.

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