Home » Neil Armstrong’s bootprint (and other lunar artifacts) are now protected by U.S. law

Neil Armstrong’s bootprint (and other lunar artifacts) are now protected by U.S. law

The Moon is getting crowded, fast

It is only a matter of decades, perhaps just years, before we see a continuous human presence on the Moon.

While it would be nice to think that a human community on the Moon would be a collaborative, multinational utopia – albeit located in what Buzz Aldrin famously described as a “magnificent desolation” – the fact is people are once again racing one another to reach our lunar neighbor.

The U.S. Artemis project, which includes a goal of sending the first woman to the Moon in 2024, is the most ambitious mission. Russia has reinvigorated its Luna program, setting the stage to put cosmonauts on the Moon in the 2030s. However, in a race once reserved for superpowers, there are now multiple nations and multiple private companies with a stake.

India is planning to send a rover to the Moon this year. , which in December implemented the first successful lunar return mission since 1976, has announced multiple lunar landings in the coming years, with Chinese media reporting  plans for a crewed mission to the Moon within the decade. South Korea and Japan are also building lunar landers and probes.

Such private companies as Masten Space Systems and Intuitive Machines are working to support NASA missions. Other companies, such as ispaceBlue Moon and SpaceX, while also supporting NASA missions, are preparing to offer private missions, including for tourism. How are all these different entities going to work around one another? Space is not lawless. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, now ratified by 110 nations, including all of the current spacefaring countries, offers guiding principles supporting the concept of space as the province of all humankind. The treaty explicitly indicates that all countries and, by implication, their nationals have the freedom to explore and free access to all areas of the Moon. That’s right. Everyone has the freedom to roam wherever they want – over Neil Armstrong’s bootprint, close to sensitive scientific experiments or right up to a mining operation. There is no concept of property on the Moon. The only restriction on this freedom is the remonstration, found in Article IX of the treaty, that all activities on the Moon must be carried out with “due regard to the corresponding interests of” all others and the requirement that you consult with others if you might cause “harmful interference.” What does that mean? From a legal standpoint, no one knows.

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