Filed Under:

One Small Step For Man, One Giant Lunar Park For The U.S.?

Play associated audio

Can astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's "giant leap for mankind" be permanently preserved? Two House Democrats want to do just that: They proposed a bill to create a national historic park for the Apollo 11 mission — on the moon. The legislation would designate a park on the moon to honor that first mission, as well as preserve artifacts from other lunar missions

But Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson from Texas might have a legal hurdle to memorializing those first lunar steps, taken 44 years ago on Saturday.

What countries can and cannot do on the moon is dictated by a body of international treaties, says Dr. Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. He tells NPR's Jacki Lyden that most of those agreements were negotiated during the "space race" with the Russians in the 1960s.

"Probably the most important one is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty," Pace says. "Nations cannot claim sovereignty over celestial bodies. So you can't plant a flag on the moon and claim it for the United States."

So, Pace says, it doesn't look like there will be a U.S. national park on the moon any time soon because the legislation appears to contradict international law.

"That being said, the issue that the legislation tries to address is, in fact, actually a real one," he says. "There are a number of historical sites on the moon that I think people would feel strongly about — not only American sites, but also Soviet and Russian sites. And arguably there will be other people there in the future."

In order to make way for these kinds of celestial memorials, countries would have to agree to new rules.

Without creating new laws, what are other ways to honor those famous first steps? Pace can imagine a way for tourists to experience the moment, even without actually going to the moon.

"One can imagine robotically controlled rovers roaming around on the moon. There are even more advanced proposals for landing people on the moon, but I think those are actually quite a ways in the future," he says. "But robotic rovers on the moon controlled by others who want to go and visit and sort of peer virtually at former lunar landing sites, that's certainly within the realm of possibility."

As for the broader future of human-space interaction, Pace envisions four possible scenarios: space colonies, Everest, Antarctica or a North Sea oil platform. Each of the models depends upon the answers to two fundamental questions, he says: "Can you live off the land?" and "Can you do anything to pay your way?"

If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then space colonies are possible. If the answer to both questions is no, then space is like Mount Everest: "People go there for adventure — even tourists go there — but nobody really lives there. It's a symbol."

If you can live off the land, but there's nothing commercially useful, "then space is like Antarctica," Pace says. "We have tourists, we have scientists and researchers, and it's an international cooperative effort, but again, no one lives there."

What if we can do something commercially useful, like mining, but the land is not inhabitable? You end up with something like a North Sea oil platform: You go there for business, but you don't live there.

"We don't really know which [scenario] is going to happen," Pace says. "And the purpose of exploration is to find out what kind of future — if any — humans have beyond the planet. That's one of the more profound questions I think we can ask."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Where Did TV's Villains Go? Monsters, Anti-Heroes And Alexis Colby Carrington

TV has a bad guy problem. The rise of morally ambiguous anti-heroes like Tony Soprano has pushed chewier, more melodramatic villains aside. What we gained in nuance, we lost in sheer, hiss-worthy fun.
NPR

Minnesota Cracks Down On Neonic Pesticides, Promising Aid To Bees

Minnesota's governor has ordered new restrictions on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been blamed for killing bees. Many details of the plan, however, remain to be worked out.
NPR

Supreme Court Declines To Reinstate North Carolina Voter Restrictions

After the high court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, North Carolina and other states enacted laws that critics said were aimed at making it harder for minorities to vote.
WAMU 88.5

Results From Congressional Primary Races And New Concerns About Hacks Into State Voting Systems

Join us to discuss results from primary challenges to Republican Senator John McCain, Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz and others and new concerns possible Russian hackers breaking into U.S. state voting systems.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.