Astronaut artifacts on the lunar surface - such as the Apollo lander and Neil Armstrong's footprint - are now protected under US law

Astronaut artifacts on the lunar surface – such as the Apollo lander and Neil Armstrong’s footprint – are now protected under US law

On December 31, 2020, One small step to protecting human heritage is in space law Became law. As far as laws go, it is very benign. It requires companies working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on lunar missions to agree to abide by unenforceable guidelines aimed at protecting US lunar landing sites. This is a very small group of affected entities. However, it is also the first law enacted by any country to recognize the existence of human heritage in outer space. This is important because it reaffirms our human commitment to protecting our history – as we do on Earth with sites like the Machu Picchu Historic Reserve, which are protected by tools like the World Heritage Convention – while also recognizing the expansion of humankind into space.
I am A lawyer who focuses on space issues Which seeks to ensure the peaceful and sustainable exploration and use of space. I think people can achieve world peace through space. To do this, we must perceive the landing sites on the moon and other celestial bodies as universal human achievements, based on the research and dreams of scientists and engineers over centuries in this world. I think the Small Step Act, enacted in a divisive political environment, makes it clear that space and conservation are really nonpartisan, even unifying, principles.

It’s just decades, maybe just years, before we see a continuous human presence on the moon.

Whereas it would be a good idea to think that a human community on the moon would be a co-operative, multinational utopia – albeit located in what Buzz Aldrin described as’Wonderful ruin– The truth is that people are racing again with each other to reach our lunar neighbor.
United State Artemis projectWhich includes the goal of sending the first woman to the moon in 2024, is the most ambitious mission. Russia has revitalized it Moon program, Paving the way to put astronauts on the moon in the 1930s. However, in a race that was intended for great powers, there is now Multiple countries And the Multiple private companies With a share.
India plans To send a rover to the moon this year. China, which in December carried out the first successful mission to return to the moon since 1976, announced several landings on the surface of the moon in the coming years. With Chinese media reports Plan a manned mission to the Moon during the decade. South Korea And the Japan It is also building a probe and a moon landing.
Like private companies like AstroboticAnd the Masten Space Systems And the Intuitive machines Working to support NASA missions. Other companies, such as ispace, Blue Moon and SpaceX, while also supporting NASA missions, are preparing to offer special missions. Including tourism. How will all these different entities work around each other?
Space is not outside the law. 1967 The Outer Space TreatyNow ratified by 110 countries, including all countries currently spacefaring, it provides guidelines that support the concept of space as the domain of all humanity. The treaty explicitly states that all countries, and thus their citizens, have freedom of exploration and free access to all regions of the Moon.
True. Everyone is free to wander wherever they want – over Neil Armstrong’s footprint, near sensitive science experiments or even the mining process. There is no concept of ownership on the moon. The only restriction on this freedom is the protest, found in Article 9 of the treaty, that all activities on the Moon must be carried out using “Due consideration of the corresponding interests ofAll others are required to consult with others if you may cause “harmful interference.”

what does that mean? From a legal point of view, no one knows.

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Outstanding global value

It can reasonably be said that interfering with an experiment or mining operation on the surface of the Moon would be harmful and cause measurable harm and thus would violate the treaty.

But what about an abandoned spacecraft, like an eagle, and The Apollo 11 Lunar Lander? Do we really want to rely on “due consideration” to prevent the intentional or unintentional destruction of this inspiring part of history? This creature commemorates the work of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have taken a human to the moon, the astronauts and astronauts who sacrificed their lives in this quest to reach the stars, and the quiet heroes Katherine Johnson, Which fueled the math that made it so.
Landing sites on the Moon – from Luna 2, The first man-made object to affect the moon, for each of the crew members The Apollo missions, to me Chang-e 4, Which deployed the first rover to the far side of the Moon – in particular, testifying to humankind’s greatest technological achievement to date. It symbolizes all that we have accomplished as a species, and it holds such a promise for the future.
The law of the small step is one that is true to its name. It’s a small step. It only applies to companies that work with NASA; Only relates to lunar landing sites in the United States; It implements old and untested Recommendations for the Protection of Historic Lunar Sites It was implemented by NASA in 2011. However, it makes major breakthroughs. It is the first legislation from any state to recognize the existence of an extraterrestrial site asOutstanding global value“Humanity has language taken from the authenticated unanimously World Heritage Convention.

The law also encourages the development of best practices for protecting human heritage in space by developing concepts of due consideration and harmful interference – a development that will also guide how states and companies operate around each other. The recognition and protection of historic sites is just as small a step as it is the first step to developing a peaceful, sustainable and successful lunar governance model.

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Boot fingerprints are not protected – yet. There is a long way to go towards an enforceable multilateral / global agreement to manage the protection, preservation or perpetuation of all human heritage in space, but the Small Step Act should give us all hope for the future in space and here on Earth.

Michelle Hanlon is Professor of Air and Space Law at the University of Mississippi.

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