Todd Halvorson,Florida Today
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Imagine a U.S. National Park like Yellowstone or the Great Smoky Mountains on the moon, one that would protect artifacts left behind by the Apollo astronauts. Sound crazy? It's not as far-fetched as it seems.
A bill introduced in Congress recently would "endow the artifacts as a National Historic Park, thereby asserting unquestioned ownership rights over the Apollo lunar landing artifacts."
U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., and Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, are co-sponsoring "The Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act" - also known as H.R. 2617.
Edwards, a ranking member of the House Space Subcommittee, is concerned that artifacts left at six Apollo landing sites could be pirated away in the not-to-distant future.
"That history, as preserved on the lunar surface, is now in danger, as space-faring commercial entities and foreign nations begin to achieve the technical capabilities necessary to land spacecraft on the surface of the moon," Edwards said in a statement submitted to the congressional record.
So, what's to protect?
Well, for one, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the Sea of Tranquility. "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." And the descent stage of Eagle's lunar lander still resides there.
Eagle's ascent stage, which boosted Armstrong and Aldrin back to the Apollo 11 Command Module, was left in a lunar orbit that decayed over time. So it presumably crash-landed at an unknown location.
Astronauts David Scott and Jim Irwin drove a lunar rover around Mare Imbrium ("The Sea of Rains") near the Apennine Mountains, and Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 astronauts also left "moon buggies" on the surface at the Descartes lunar highland and the Taurus-Littrow valley, respectively.
Alan Shepard clubbed three golf balls at Fra Mauro, a hilly region named for the 15th Century Italian monk and cartographer who mapped the Mediterranean world of 1459 with uncanny accuracy.
And then there is the plaque left on the descent stage of the Apollo 11 lunar lander - on the ladder from which Armstrong made "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
It reads: "Here Men From The Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon The Moon July 1969, A.D. We Came In Peace For All Mankind."
All that said, the legislation, if passed and signed into law, could face legal challenges.
One hundred United Nations member nations, including the United States, ratified the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits any country from claiming property in outer space.
In part, it reads: "Outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."
Consequently, it's questionable whether a U.S. claim on Apollo landing sites, or the artifacts found at them, would be deemed legitimate by other nations - terrestrial, or extraterrestrial.