Should the Apollo moon landing site be a National Historic Landmark?
The passing of Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon, could energize the movement to preserve Tranquility Base and the NASA artifacts that remain there.
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In 2010, Robert Kelso, former director of NASA’s lunar commercial services, invited O’Leary to join a group of NASA scientists and engineers to help create guidelines to protect U.S. objects on the moon from future visitors. The recommendations were developed in response to a request from the Google Lunar X Prize.Skip to next paragraph
Important first step
Although it is not legally binding, the paper, "NASA’s Recommendations to Space Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Lunar Artifacts," took an important first step towardprotecting these sites on the moon, O’Leary said.
“Some of those guidelines include where these spacecraft can land and the distance at which they have to be,” said O’Leary. “They can image the objects, but we would hate for a rover that is mobile to go over the tracks that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made or to crash into some of the artifacts that are standing…some of them are scientific experiments."
Robots to the moon
In May of this year, NASA and the X Prize Foundation of Playa Vista, Calif., announced that the Google Lunar X Prize is recognizing guidelines established by the space agency to protect lunar historic sites and preserve ongoing and future science on the moon.
The Google Lunar X Prize offers $30 million to the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon. Twenty-six teams will compete for the prize.
Meanwhile, O’Leary said she plans to keep pressing forward on space heritage preservation.
“I’m one of those believers that if it’s not in two years or five years or 20 years, we will go back to the moon, I think first with robotics and second with humans,” O’Leary said. “If we don’t have a preservation framework in place, if we don’t have rules and ideas about what is important to preserve and how to preserve it, we really run the risk of destroying sites and artifacts."
Preserved for posterity
“In terms of the preservation of artifacts on the moon, I hope Neil’s passing will raise the priority in everyone’s mind the need to preserve this critically significant history,” said Roger Launius, senior curator, Division of Space History and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
“I think there have been great strides made in the last couple years in that regard, but it still is at the realm of informal ‘rules of the road,’ rather than specific protections carrying the force of law,” Launius told SPACE.com.
“Perhaps that will change in the next few years. Regardless of the form these efforts to preserve the record of the Apollo moon landings may take, the loss of the heroic figure prompts us to reflect on this historic occurrence and to redouble efforts to ensure that it is preserved for posterity,” Launius said.
Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is a winner of last year's National Space Club Press Award and a past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society's Ad Astra and Space World magazines. He has written for SPACE.com since 1999.
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