Historic Preservation and the Final Frontier

All of a sudden, it seems, the discussion of historic preservation, cultural conservation and archaeological protection on the moon and in space, is making the news. If you glance over space preservation or moon preservation or similar subjects, it could sound a bit strange, yes? Some people (the pessimists) might even think, oh great, now the preservationists want to prevent change on the moon and in outer space. Or maybe you thought that. I’ll admit, I had never given thought to preservation in space until a recent few articles.

From the New York Times article, “To Preserve History on the Moon, Visitors Are Asked to Tread Lightly,” to the post on HISTPRES, “Space Preservation: Proposing a Lunar Protection Agency,” preservationists, archaeologists, and others are abuzz with what this might for our related fields. For those who have worked toward preservation in space, some (such as Dr. Beth O’Leary of New Mexico State University) since 1999) this recognition and widespread discussion must be a long time coming.

Read the above articles for the full story (both are worth your time). In brief: as space travels moves closer to reality, people are starting to consider what cultural significance there is on the moon (Tranquility Base – on the moon – is where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. Their footprints remain). Artifacts from the space expedition in 1969 are stored in California and cataloged in the archives in the states California and New Mexico. In other words, the objects are protected.

However, what about the footprints? The famous footprints of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin? These footprints and Tranquility Base could be considered a worldwide cultural landscape (called a World Heritage Site).

Buzz Aldrin's boot print on the moon. Photograph via Wikipedia through NASA (this photograph is in the public domain).

As the articles point out, lunar tourism – even just one group or spaceship – could destroy this landscape. How do we (collectively, as an entire population) protect such a place? Who will curate the space? Who visits the landscape? How do you protect something in space? Chloe Castro’s HISTPRES post (based on her thesis) discusses the current lack of measures for protecting the landscape and the footprints. She makes suggestions for a Lunar Protection Agency and explores need for international, cooperative involvement.

What’s the bottom line right now? Why is this an issue and not some ridiculous preservation idea? Simply put, many people are keen believers in space travel for the future. People – and not just scientists or preservationists – will walk on the moon again. That puts the significant landscape at risk. Fortunately, one nation does not own the moon. And while the footprints may be those of United States citizens, they represent the world and new beginnings. Losing the very beginning – the physical evidence on the landscape – of human contact with the moon because we had not considered its importance and its preservation, would be a tragic loss for the world’s heritage. In other words, we need to act now in order to preserve our heritage on the moon and in space.