Saturday, October 24, 2015

A US national park on the Moon?

Buzz Aldrin salutes the US flag on the Moon, 1969. (Wikipedia)
Should the site be a US national park?
I want to say a few words about archaeology in space; and in particular a Bill in the US Congress mandating that the Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon will be a US national park. The Bill was introduced in July 2013; and though I have no reason to believe that it will ever go anywhere, for I've seen nothing about it since, nonetheless, as I started on this story a few years ago, I feel obliged to bring it up to date.

Back in 2012 my eye was caught by a zany act of the state of California a couple of years earlier, placing preservation orders on the Apollo 11 Moon landing site.  A bizarre act of extraterrestrial heritage imperialism I called it, in a blog post called "To boldly preserve where no man has preserved before". 

But a Bill in the US Congress ratchets the whole enterprise up a notch. So it needs to be said that whilst protecting the Apollo sites is laudable, making them US national parks is not.

Now without a doubt, the US Apollo programme was a premier technological accomplishment of the 20th century. Preserving the six historic landing sites of the manned Apollo missions is important, along with the mementos and equipment still lying around on the Moon.  The same goes for other US missions such as Ranger and Surveyor, and indeed the Soviet Luna missions.

But the US National Park System Act states that the parks are “managed for the benefit and inspiration of all the people of the United States”.  A direct conflict therefore with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which clearly emphasizes that the exploration and use of space by nations is to benefit all peoples. Article II of the Treaty provides that “outer space, the moon and other celestial bodies are not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” Whichever way you cut it, designating a national park on the Moon would amount to a territorial claim. Nor is submitting the Apollo 11 lunar landing site to UNESCO for designation as a World Heritage Site a way out, as World Heritage Sites are located on the sovereign territory of nations. So this would violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty too.

Science journal in November 2013 (Vol 342, p 1049) makes these points, and proposes instead an international agreement on lunar artefacts among the United States, Russia, and China.  Other states could join in due course. This would be a far superior and long-lasting solution to a unilateral US proclamation, the article claims.

Private property in space

There are plenty of corporations and their henchmen calling for private property rights on the Moon and elsewhere in space, and the 1967 Outer Space Treaty framework needs supporting.

Should you wish to follow up the private property in space debate, I have a website with plenty of links.  You'll find clear expositions of the case for and against space property rights.  My favourite has to be a piece called “Marx on Mars” by one Virgiliu Pop, a Romanian space lawyer. This is a frontal assault on the Moon Agreement’s embracing of the Common Heritage of Mankind principle.  The principle is based (he says) on Marxism, and Marxism (he says) is a fallacy.  Wonderful stuff.

I'm going to Limerick soon to give a talk to the astronomy club there on the ethics of space exploration, and I just wanted to get this update in beforehand. By the way, if undisturbed, the bootprints in the foreground of the Buzz Aldrin photo might outlive all human artefacts on Earth.