Legislators Want to Put a National Park on the Moon

A bill in the House of Representatives wants to protect the Apollo landing sites. But can it?

Looking west from the Apollo 11 landing site.
Looking west from the Apollo 11 landing site. Neil Armstrong / NASA

Next week will mark 44 years since the crew of Apollo 11 touched down in the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility, the first of humanity’s bold steps onto another world. To honor and protect the legacy of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and all those who enabled and followed in their footsteps, two legislators have floated the idea of establishing the Apollo Lunar Landing Sites National Historical Park, reports The Hill.

“The park would be comprised of all artifacts left on the surface of the moon from the Apollo 11 through 17 missions.

The bill says these sites need to be protected because of the anticipated increase in commercial moon landings in the future.

“As commercial enterprises and foreign nations acquire the ability to land on the Moon, it is necessary to protect the Apollo lunar landing sites for posterity,” according to the text of the Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act, H.R. 2617.”

The Apollo 11 landing site as compared to a soccer pitch
The Apollo 11 landing site as compared to a soccer pitch NASA / Thomas Schwagmeier

The bill would afford the historic sites protection but would also promise to “‘provide public access to’ the lunar site and also ‘provide visitor services and administrative facilities.’” says ABC. Figuring out what exactly this means (portable toilets and gift shops?) and how much it would cost, not to mention actually implementing the National Park idea, would be daunting enough, if the bill gets passed. But there’s also one other sticking point: the U.S. government doesn’t actually have the jurisdiction or authority to establish a National Park on the Moon.

That’s because the Moon is not U.S. territory. In fact, it’s not anyone’s territory. According to Article II of the United Nations Outer Space Treaty of 1967:

Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.

The representatives who proposed the bill thought of this, though. Unlike Yellowstone or any other National Park, the protected status wouldn’t actually extend to the lunar soil itself. It’s just the artifacts they want to protect. ABC:

ithout claiming ownership of the moonscape itself, the bill would designate the artifacts left behind such as the landing gear, footprints, moon walking gear and roving hardware as a “National Historical Park.”

Since the U.S. can’t protect the Apollo sites on their own, the bill includes another section that says they have to approach the United Nations to have the Apollo sites listed as a World Heritage Site.

That being said, if the U.S. did want to go and claim the lunar territory as its own, there’s nothing really stopping that from happening, says Foreign Policy. If the U.S. government decided to withdraw from the U.N. treaty, then they could totally dibs the Moon. But it’s probably in their best interest to keep the space treaty intact—one of the treaty’s other big jobs is to bar anyone from putting nuclear weapons in space.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Legacy of Apollo
An Apollo Rocket Engine Was Just Saved from the Bottom of the Atlantic
Here’s What Nixon Would Have Said If Apollo 11 Hadn’t Landed

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