Land-Use Planning on the Moon?

January 11th, 2012

Yep. Some historians want to turn the site of the lunar landing into a historical site, protected by (what I guess would be) some kind fo land-use laws!

But for archaeologists and historians worried that the next generation of people visiting the moon might carelessly obliterate the site of one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments, these designations were important first steps toward raising awareness of the need to protect off-world artifacts.

“I think it’s humanity’s heritage,” said Beth L. O’Leary, a professor of anthropology at New Mexico State University. “It’s just an incredible realm that archaeologists haven’t begun to look at until now.”

Dr. O’Leary herself had not given much thought to historic preservation on the Moon until a student asked her in 1999 whether federal preservation laws applied to the Apollo landing sites.

“That started the ball rolling,” she said.

It turned out to be a tricky question. Under international law, the United States government still owns everything it left on the moon: the bottom half of the first lunar lander, the scientific experiments, the urine bags. But 100 nations, including the United States, have signed the Outer Space Treaty, in which they agree not to claim sovereignty over any part of the moon.

For most of the last decade, the effort by Dr. O’Leary and her students to seek formal protection for the Apollo sites was a lonely pursuit. NASA, by its nature, looks more to its future than its past. “There’s a tendency of NASA, when their programs end, they tend to get rid of everything,” said Milford Wayne Donaldson, the historic preservation officer for California.

Alas, Texas was not of much help!

So Dr. O’Leary started placing calls to historic preservation officials in states where the space industry looms large. Texas, she learned, couldn’t help her, because to be listed as a historic resource there, an item must lie in Texas.