But the moon isn’t part of the United States, they were told, and although some sites in other countries, like battlefields, have been listed as U.S. Historic Landmarks, the moon posed special problems. That led ultimately to a letter from the National Park Service saying the agency lacks jurisdiction over the moon.
Another letter to the students from a NASA lawyer cites concerns that the international community might misunderstand, thinking the United States was trying to stake a claim on part of the moon.
The students don’t want to claim the moon, which clearly would be a violation of the Outer Space Treaty. The treaty went into effect on Oct. 10, 1967, nearly two year’s before Armstrong climbed out of the lunar lander.
Joanne Gabrynowitz, professor of space law at the University of North Dakota and an expert on the treaty, notes that Armstrong himself did not claim the moon on the part of the U.S. “because the moon is international territory.”
Although the two astronauts did plant a U.S. flag on the moon, they also delivered a plaque that says “we came in peace for all mankind,’’ Gabrynowitz says, “which is the recognition that this is for all humanity.”
But, she adds, there’s nothing in the treaty that says the U.S. can’t declare it a historic site. “It’s one of the most historic sites of the 20th century,” she says, but she defers to others as to who should make that declaration.
The students want the U.S. government to take whatever steps are necessary to protect those cultural artifacts, including the footprints. They hope eventually to get the United Nations to list the landing areas and artifacts as World Heritage Sites, thus protecting them for all nations.
But they can’t do that unless they first get the National Register of Historic Places to designate the sites as national landmarks. So they are preparing formal nomination papers to get the lunar landing sites and the debris left behind, as declared landmarks. If they are turned down, at least they can appeal to the Secretary of Interior.
In the meantime, the researchers continue to nail down the list of everything that’s now on the moon.
“There’s some good trash up there,” says O’Leary, speaking like a true archaeologist.
As for that first footprint on the moon, it’s probably long gone, according to Gibson and Versluis, who have studied many photographs of the area around the lunar lander. The astronauts undoubtedly trampled over it many times, but there are other footprints around the area, clearly visible in the photographs.
They tell the story of an incredible epoch in human history. May they be preserved in peace for all mankind.
Lee Dye’s column appears weekly on ABCNEWS.com. A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.