One small step for space heritage protection

gormanprofile-v4The recent decision to have the Apollo 11 moon landing site named as a state historical resource highlights the urgent need for an international agreement on what constitutes space heritage and who controls it, according to Flinders University’s Dr Alice Gorman, leading space archaeologist.

“The designation of 100s of artefacts left at the site of Tranquility Base after the historic Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 is a great step forward in recognising the distinct cultural heritage of space exploration,” Dr Gorman said.

“However, it raises some interesting issues about how and why we want to protect these places. Among the items that form part of the archaeological site of Tranquility Base, it’s not only objects like the controversial US flag and various pieces of scientific equipment that are important – it’s also the boot prints left by the astronauts, furrows and pits where they took samples, and the traverses that are evidence of how they moved around the site,” she said.

“Unfortunately, under the terms of the Outer Space Treaty, the lunar surface cannot be included in a heritage listing, as this would imply making a territorial claim. So in a sense, only half the site receives protection.”

The aim of the decision by the California State Historic Resources department is to eventually have the site inscribed in the World Heritage List.

“The World Heritage Convention was not designed with space heritage in mind – it does not apply to moveable objects, so historic satellites like Vanguard 1, the oldest surviving satellite in Earth orbit, launched in 1958, could not be included,” Dr Gorman said.

“It is also based on national or state legal identities, so reconciling the terms of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and World Heritage Convention will need some work.

“It’s timely to consider how we manage space heritage at an international level, as artefacts such as those on Tranquility Base would be highly valued by collectors, and souveniring is a common activity of tourists. With the growth of the space tourist industry, we might see the possibility of moon tourism within the century.”

Other ventures to the Moon, such as those proposed by India and China, Dr Gorman said, may have an impact of sites like Tranquility Base, and their landing sites will become heritage places too.

“Few people would disagree that Tranquility Base has outstanding universal value as defined by the World Heritage Convention, but it is also a highly nationalist site, created during the Cold War to demonstrate the superior technology of the US. How will Russia, and other states from the former USSR, react to this development?”

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