Newt Gingrich isn't the only American political figure with lunar ambitions: Two House Democrats have proposed a national park on the surface of the moon.
Pitched by U.S. Reps. Donna Edwards, D-Md., and Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, the Apollo Lunar Landing Sites National Historical Park would preserve artifacts left by NASA's Apollo missions between 1969 and 1972. The bill's sponsors argue the sites need to be protected before they're endangered by the expected growth of commercial space travel.
"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," states the Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act, citing the areas' national, historical and scientific significance.
The 1967 Outer Space Treaty forbids countries from claiming territory on the moon, calling it and other celestial bodies "the province of all mankind." But while the U.S. bill technically proposes a park, it would protect only artifacts left by Apollo astronauts, not the lunar surface itself. That may be redundant, though, since the 1967 treaty already grants ownership of manmade space objects to the nations that launched them.
In addition to the national historical park, the bill would also require the Apollo 11 landing site — where NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong left his famous footprints in the lunar regolith — to be officially nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The U.S. park would need to be established within a year of the bill's passage, and would be jointly managed by NASA and the Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service. The bill allows the U.S. to accept donations from companies and foreign governments to help with park management and to "provide visitor services and administrative facilities within reasonable proximity to the Historical Park."
Anyone who steals or damages artifacts on the moon would face the same kind of punishment as thieves and vandals at other national parks, although enforcement will obviously be difficult without park rangers around. And since NASA doesn't currently have any plans for a manned lunar mission, the logistics of creating the park remain hazy. Nonetheless, Johnson tells the Dallas Morning News it's worth a shot.
"I don't think that there is anything far-fetched about protecting and preserving such irreplaceable items and such a hallowed place," she says.
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