Should we establish a national park on the moon?
Yes, that moon. And, yes, this is a serious question.
A bill (HR 2617) introduced by Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) on Monday, if passed, would establish the Apollo Lunar Landing Sites National Historic park. So no, this would not be a park that you pack the kids in the Winnebago and summer vacation to — unless “Winnebago” is somehow code in your family for “space craft that could take you to the moon.”
But that possibility — specifically, private space flight — is what inspired the bill. Commercial entities had been seeking information from NASA about how to plan their own missions to and exploration of the moon. In response to those and other questions and concerns, the space agency issued a report in July 2011 offering guidelines on how to preserve the United States’ “lunar artifacts” as commercial space flight continues to advance. In the introduction to the report, the authors wrote:
“Representatives of commercial entities have contacted NASA seeking guidance for approaching U.S. Government (USG) space assets on the lunar surface – out of respect for hardware ownership, and a sincere desire to protect general scientific and historic aspects of these sites. Because there is no precedent for this situation throughout nearly 50 years of spaceflight, there are no USG guidelines or requirements for spacecraft visiting the areas of existing USG-owned lunar hardware regardless of condition or location.”
Johnson is the ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, while Edwards is the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Space. The bill, called the Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act, was created to preserve the Apollo 11 through Apollo 17 landing sites. It has no Republican co-sponsors.
“Mr. Speaker, in 1969, led by the late Apollo Astronaut Neil Armstrong, American ingenuity changed history as humanity took a giant leap forward on the surface of the moon,” said Edwards on the House floor Tuesday. “That history, as preserved on the lunar surface, is now in danger, as spacefaring commercial entities and foreign nations begin to achieve the technical capabilities necessary to land spacecraft on the surface of the moon.”
The artifacts left at the Apollo sites include equipment, impact markings, footprints and vehicle tracks. The bill would also protect these areas from future mining (a not entirely remote possibility), and calls on the Secretary of the Interior and NASA to submit an application to make the Apollo 11 landing site a United Nations World Heritage Site. The Apollo lunar surface missions concluded in 1972.
The bill reads in part:
“Establishing the Historical Park under this Act will expand and enhance the protection and preservation of the Apollo lunar landing sites and provide for greater recognition and public understanding of this singular achievement in American history.”
The bill would also authorize the Secretary of the Interior to engage in cooperative agreements with other agencies and foreign governments, international bodies and other organizations as well as accept and manage donations. NASA would also be authorized to accept donations towards the management of the site and fulfillment of the bill’s requirements. The bill also calls on the Smithsonian Institution to collaborate with NASA and the Interior Secretary to to catalog the items in the park.
If it becomes law, the bill would require that, within a year, the National Park System establish the park and that the application to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) be submitted for World Heritage Site status. Six months after the park is established, a “general management plan” for the park would have to be created.
“The Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act will ensure that the scientific data and cultural significance of the Apollo artifacts remains unharmed by future lunar landings. This Act will endow the artifacts as a National Historic Park, thereby asserting unquestioned ownership rights over the Apollo lunar landing artifacts,” said Edwards on the floor.
In addition to the bill establishing the national park on the moon, Edwards also introduced HR 2616, a bill authorizing NASA for another three years. The bill would also allow the agency a 2 percent increase in funding per year — from $18.1 billion in fiscal 2014 to $18.87 billion in fiscal 2016. The authorization bill, said Edwards, “ensures the Agency remains a multi-mission agency with a balanced and robust set of core missions in science, aeronautics, space technology and human space flight and exploration.”
A spokesman for NASA would not comment on the bill that would authorize the national park. But you can, of course, in the comments.