Inside the Capitol

Thursday, July 19, 2012

7-25 New Mexico helps protect moom artifacts

72512 Tranquility Base

SANTA FE – It was bound to happen. Public officials already are making plans for what to do about sticky-fingered tourists picking up stuff left by our lunar astronauts.
Yes, our astronauts were litter bugs. Big time. They wanted to make their load as light as possible so they left 106 items lying around their landing area at Tranquility Base, the sight of the first moon landing. And some day tourists are going to go see them.
How soon will that be? Encouraging signs abound. Last month Space X, belonging to Pay Pal founder Elon Musk, successfully doc ked at the International Space station, taking supplies and retrieving garbage.
The impetus for some sort of protection came from the 26 participants in Google's Lunar X Prize competition. These 26 companies agreed to abide by NASA's Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities about how to protect and preserve artifacts left on the moon.
Isn't it a little early to be worrying about space tourists? These 26 companies have until the end of 2015 to land on the moon with a robot that will travel 500 meters and send video, images and data back to Earth. The prize is $30 million.
The first X Prize was won by SpaceshipOne for flying to the edge of space twice within a three-day period. The company that won $10 million for that feat is building SpaceshipTwo for Virgin Galactic to start flying passengers next year.
A problem exists with NASA's recommendations, however. They can't be enforced. That must come through the National Historic Preservation Act. And New Mexico is helping make that happen. In April 2010, New Mexico became the second state to officially designate the articles left behind at Tranquility Base on the moon in its official registry of historic properties.
Leadership in this effort was taken by Dr. Beth O'Leary, an anthropology professor at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and students in a graduate level class. O'Leary is now working with Dr. Lisa Westwood of Chico State University in California, which was the first state to list the moon artifacts in its registry of historical properties, to prepare congressional legislation to make Tranquility Base a national historic landmark.
The next step is to get the moon artifacts listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. That is the closest to global protection that is possible. Treaties prevent any nation from claiming any part of the surface of the moon but NASA does own all its artifacts.
Why don't Texas and Florida claim the moon artifacts on their lists of historic properties? Texas, at least, cannot claim any property that is not in the state. New Mexico and California laws permit them to list sites that have some connection to the state.
New Mexico felt it had a strong connection to space exploration through rocket pioneer Robert Goddard and the V-2 testing at what is now White Sands Missile Range. Our early astronauts also spent considerable time in New Mexico enduring physical tests under the direction of Dr. Randy Lovelace.
They also learned the geology of the moon by training in areas of our state that looked much like the surface of the moon. They were under the tutelage of New Mexico astronaut Harrison Schmitt, a Ph.D. geologist.
If you are one of those doubters who think the astronauts didn't go to the moon but camped out on earth, don't let the fact that some of New Mexico looks like the moon make you believe we didn't go to the moon. NASA has pictures.
Sir Richard Branson, in a joke posting on his Virgin Galactic website, makes a claim that not only defies science but also some of those international space treaties we mentioned earlier.
Branson is such a big time wheeler-dealer that it might be easy for some to believe it when he says he has bought Pluto and plans to restore its planetary status by dragging in neighboring moons.


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