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Historic Preservation 

Why Preserve the Past? 

Imagine if there were no traces of anything that had ever happened in history. The Statue of Liberty in New York ( Stonehenge in England (, no pyramids in Egypt and no 2.5 million year old stone tools in Olduvai Gorge Africa.

What would that do to the quality of memory of the human presence in the world?  How can we understand our history without reference to the artifacts and features which were once created long ago?   Without the physical evidence we could only remember events at which we were present at and even in our own memories some of the details of what actually happened would be lost.  And more details would be lost as we passed on our stories to the next generation and the next.  Only preservation and documentation of the objects and events allows humans to accurately reconstruct and remember the past.   

A series of policies, laws and regulations govern the preservation of our past in the United States.  The most important of these is the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).  This law and its implementing regulations, 36 CFR Part 800, recognize that historic properties significant to the Nations heritage are being lost and that the cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people (16 U.S.C. 470 (1)(b)(2-3)) ( This law has a set of criteria which allows us to designate historic properties (e.g., districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects etc.) as significant.  Significant properties are eligible to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).  The criteria for significance under NRHP  include material associated with important events, nationally significant people, distinctive styles, manufacture or work of a master and cultural properties which have yielded or may yield information important to history.  Properties achieving significance within the past fifty years  (such as the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Site) can be considered significant if they are of exceptional importance (  

The U.S Space Program is regarded as exceptionally significant, so Cape Canaveral and Houston Mission Control are eligible to the National Register of Historic Places.  In 1991 Congress directed the Department of Defense to ... inventory, protect and conserve the physical and literary property and relics of the Department of Defense, in the United States and overseas, connected with the origins and development of the Cold War (DoD Appropriations Act of 1991, Sec. 8120).  

Some artifacts from the Apollo 11 program are already preserved in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.  The Apollo 11 capsule (Command Module) that returned to earth and its heat shield is a treasure in our national museum and is visited by millions of people.  To view the Smithsonian exhibit click on the images.


But what about the objects that are still left on the moon? 

NHPA states that all federal undertakings (i.e., activities which involve the U.S. government such as funding, permitting, land etc.) must take into account their impacts on significant NRHP cultural properties.  The federal government must mitigate or soften any impacts which have an adverse or bad effect. This can be done by various preservation techniques.   

Given these federal laws, the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Site fits all the criteria for a significant site even though only thirty-two years have passed.  Since it was created, almost every site that is significant according to federal law, is physically in the United States - what happens when the significant site which was created by the United States is on the moon? 

How do we preserve the cultural property left on the moon by the Apollo 11 mission? 

In 1967  the United States signed a United Nations Treaty governing activities on the moon  ( which states that the nation which launched the object into space or on the moon  "... shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object... while in outer space or on a celestial body.  Therefore, we interpret this to mean that the United States still has jurisdiction over these cultural properties.  Even though the United States can make no claim of sovereignty over the actual moon surface,  the objects left there by a nation remain the nations property.  Unfortunately, at the present time both NASA and the Federal Government are not willing to pursue preserving these properties on the moon.  One of the researchers (Ralph Gibson) completed his M.A. thesis which discusses this problem (See References ). The Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Site is not simply a significant site for Americans, it was a significant event for all of humanity.  The steps on the moon were a step for mankind.  Over 600 million people watched the moon landing.  The site belongs to the world. 

UNESCO, a branch of the United Nations, recognizes sites in all countries that have international significance. The World Heritage List is a collection of cultural properties which are deemed by the United Nations as, sites which are of outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological, or anthropological points of view.  For more information on World Heritage criteria go to  (http://www.unesco/whc/nwhc/pages/doc/main.htm).  In order for a site to be included on the World Heritage List it must first be protected by the country that has jurisdiction over the site using the cultural preservation laws of that country.  The United States wont take that step - yet.   

Future impacts to the moon?  Why do we need to safeguard the moon sites? Is it possible that others in the future will visit lunar landing sites? While projects to land on the moon may happen and impact the sites we hope to preserve, isnt this something we dont need to worry about now?

Recently (2001), Lockheed Martin proposed to launch a guided probe to the Apollo 12 Landing site and Surveyor 3 site on the moon (  While claiming both that these sites were not as significant as Apollo 11, the project will be removing artifacts.  This action would be considered an adverse effect under current federation preservation law. The landing sites on the moon represent a critical aspect of the Cold War. The Apollo Program was a huge technological endeavor by scientists, engineers and astronauts. The first lunar landing is an event that will never be forgotten. Its artifacts should not be forgotten either. The Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Site deserves preservation for all present and future inhabitants of the earth.