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article imageOp-Ed: The case for saving man's greatest technological achievement

By Karen Graham     Jul 16, 2019 in Science
Fifty years ago today, on July 16, 1969, at 9:32 a.m. EDT, the Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle - with Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. lifted off from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A - heading for the moon.
Forgive me saying so, but I always look at significant events that have happened during my lifetime from a historical perspective, as do many people, including space archeologist, and professor emerita at New Mexico State University, Dr. Beth O'Leary.
I think Dr. O'Leary can see how the bare footprints of the first hominids to walk upright - preserved in volcanic ash in Laetoli, Tanzania and the bootprints of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Lunar surface are all part of the ongoing evolutionary process we call humankind.
It only took us 3.5 million years, but Armstrong's boot prints on the lunar surface, along with those of fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin, also bear witness to an evolutionary milestone, as well as humankind’s greatest technological achievement.
The Apollo 11 crew. Left to right are Neil Armstrong  Michael Collins  and Buzz Aldrin.
The Apollo 11 crew. Left to right are Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.
NASA/ Photo ID: Ap11-s69-31740.
The point is - while the evidence of man's bipedal footprints are recognized by the international community and protected as human heritage, there is no such interest on an international scale to preserve humanity's first steps on the lunar surface. "There are no legal restrictions," says Dr. O'Leary.
"But we would hope that the social sanctions of destroying one of the most extraordinary sites that humankind has ever created would prevent anybody from getting that close," she added during an interview with The Current's guest host David Common on July 15.
The problems with preserving heritage sites in space
Here on Earth, we have UNESCO, an organization that lists World Heritage Sites. This group was created by a convention signed by 193 nations, allowing the international community to protect places like Canada's Dinosaur Provincial Park, Stonehenge in Wiltshire U.K., or Grand Canyon National Park in the U.S.
Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin s bootprint. Aldrin photographed this bootprint about an ho...
Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin's bootprint. Aldrin photographed this bootprint about an hour into their lunar extra-vehicular activity on July 20, 1969, as part of investigations into the soil mechanics of the lunar surface. This photo would later become synonymous with humankind's venture into space.
NASA/Buzz Aldrin
There is no such organization that would protect Neil Armstrong's bootprints, or for that matter, Tranquility Base, the site of the lunar landing. There are no international protections covering the Chinese or any other country's sites on the lunar surface, either. This means anyone reaching the moon could wipe out or even destroy any relics on the lunar surface.
I would be remiss if I didn't point out that there is an Outer Space Treaty, put into effect on January 27, 1967. As of June 2019, 109 countries are parties to the treaty, while another 23 have signed the treaty but have not completed ratification.
The main points of the treaty include that it prohibits the placing of nuclear weapons in space, it limits the use of the Moon and all other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes only, and establishes that space shall be free for exploration and use by all nations, but that no nation may claim sovereignty of outer space or any celestial body.
Apollo 11 lifts off from Kennedy Space Center
Apollo 11 lifts off from Kennedy Space Center
However, the Outer Space Treaty does not ban military activities within space, military space forces, or the weaponization of space, with the exception of the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space. So that's why President Trump wants his "Space Force."
Recommendations, by NASA in 2011
I suppose all countries are the same when it comes to protecting what is theirs, and the U.S. is no different. In 2011, NASA came up with recommendations for how to protect and preserve U.S. government lunar artifacts and sites.
The initial recommendations were shared with commercial and international space agencies with the aim of opening discussions for improvements to the recommendations on an international level. However, Dr. O'Leary says that as of now, there have been no agreements on an international scale.
File photo: Armstrong on the surface of the moon
File photo: Armstrong on the surface of the moon
A congressional bill to protect lunar sites
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on July 10, 2019, approved a bill to protect lunar heritage sites. Called the One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act (S. 1694), it was introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in May.
The bill requires any federal agency that issues a license to conduct a lunar activity shall require the applicant to agree to abide by recommendations in the 2011 report “NASA’s Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Artifacts.”
But as it is with NASA's 2011 recommendations, the bill only covers the United States. Not only that but with Trump's deregulatory/anti-regulatory stance, it is doubtful the bill will be approved. Not only that, but it does not take into accvo0unt the international community.
As Dr. O'Leary says, "I'm hoping that in the future, many nations will join in really evaluating what's up there, and saying: What is it that we need to preserve, and what's the best way to preserve it?" It really does needs to be an international effort.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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