By Marty Russell
If someone blew George Washington’s nose, as in off, on Mount Rushmore, they’d probably find themselves in a heap of trouble (and rubble) for defacing – literally – a national monument. But what if someone swept out Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon?
I was watching the movie “Apollo 18” the other night about a supposed secret mission to the moon where the astronauts encounter not only a Russian spacecraft but aliens in the form of moon rocks. Yes, moon rocks. Don’t look for it to be mentioned at this year’s Academy Awards.
But as the movie glaciated toward a merciful conclusion (for the viewers, at least) I began to notice all the “stuff” the Apollo missions routinely left behind on the moon. The lower halves of the lunar landers for those lucky enough to get off the moon, the American flags, the rovers, the tools, the trash. And all those footprints and tracks where no man has smudged up pristine soil before.
Apollo 17, in 1972, was supposedly the last time humans set foot on the moon, the aforementioned movie notwithstanding. But that could, and certainly will at some point, change. While it’s not likely Americans, at least not government-funded Americans, will be returning there anytime soon given that we now have to hitch rides into space with other countries, most notably Russia, other groups are planning manned missions back to the moon.
China, in late December, announced an ambitious plan for manned space flight with the goal of returning men (or presumably women as well) to the moon possibly as soon as 2025. Google is sponsoring a competition with teams vying to be the first privately-funded manned missions to the moon with a bonus prize for anyone who visits one of its historic sites.
Now unless those alien rocks from the movie have joined together to form their own version of Mount Rushmore, the only historic sites I can think of on the moon are the Apollo landing sites. So what happens if some space tourists land there and mess up the place? Or maybe decide to take home some souvenirs?
Here at Ole Miss we have what is known as the National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law in the Law School. But, according to legal experts, the U.S. cannot designate the Apollo landing sites as historical places provided protection under the law because we signed off on an international treaty that says no one country can claim a part of the moon as its own.
While many people are working to find a way around that, we can only hope that future visitors to the moon will respect those sites and their historical significance. And that those homicidal moon rocks from the movie don’t find them first.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.