Some serious questions about NASA’s preservation policy

Last week, NASA released some preservation policy guidelines for the historic Apollo moon landing sites. It sets guidelines for driving near and flying over the Apollo moon landing sites in an attempt to preserve them. This is probably a good idea to protect these sites, and I’m a supporter of the idea.

The publication of the guidelines bring up some interesting ideas which have long been talked about but never really worked out.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE actually offers inventive prizes to the tune of several million dollars for observing some of these historic sites. And let’s be honest, who’s to stop them from doing so?

The only real legal precedent that governs operations on the moon is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The general tone of this treaty in regards to the historic preservation guidelines, ratified by 100 countries and signed by another 26, is that no country can claim ownership of the moon (or any other body in space).

It has long been noted that while a fine start, it really does nothing to address private operations on the moon. It was created to be politically expedient in a time when it seemed that the two cold war super powers might want to use the moon as a strategic military location, but it is really just for show. We’ve not really done much surface lunar operations since the mid 1970s, so the scope of this treaty has never been legally tested.  Any country who wants to claim ownership of the moon can simply withdraw from the treaty by sending a letter to that effect.  If a powerful nation were to withdraw and claim ownership of some part of the moon, the fallout would be largely diplomatic and ultimately impotent.

An interesting question that the NASA preservation guidelines present is: who gave NASA the right to set those policies for anyone but themselves?

This approach will probably be fine for the short term initial exploration of the moon by private enterprises because most people are afraid of pissing off the US government these days, but it doesn’t work as a long term strategy. The issue probably wont be flushed out until it needs to be done in court.

I’m looking forward to watching this unfold, because it means progress in space is really happening.


7 thoughts on “Some serious questions about NASA’s preservation policy

  1. NASA’s power to set guidelines for the Apollo landing sites comes from the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.  Under Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty the United States has a legal obligation to supervise the conduct and activities of government and non-government entities under its jurisdiction in outer space.  Since NASA is an agent of the United States government, and the participants are under the jurisdiction of the United States government, NASA has the right to set guidelines concerning the participants’ activities on the Moon around the Apollo landing sites.  For a great essay on this topic, check out
    Matt Kleiman’s article in the Space Review at


    1. From that same article, “No US government agency, however, currently has jurisdiction to regulate
      the conduct of non-governmental spacecraft on the lunar surface. NASA
      can establish requirements for its own missions, but not for those
      conducted by a private entity.”

      NASA can claim rights to US lunar hardware, but not to the activities around the Apollo landing sites. That being said, the GLXP teams certainly intend to be respectful of such heritage sites… 


  2. You certainly got me thinking. I drafted a response, but it kept growing and growing.  I can post the whole thing here, if you’d like, but in the interest of not slamming this page with a huge block of text, I’ll link to it:


  3. I’ve been already elaborately writing on that subject – but the response was in analogy with the spread of language I am usually writing, croatian. Search for the headline “Tko zadaje pravila na Mjesecu” in my blog and Google Translate could help.
    This initiative was presented for the first time this year on Google Lunar X Prize summit 11-13 July in Mountain View. 
    The summary of my private conclusions in this blog sequel was:
    • every private team aiming to visit these places is very serious on that subject, completely opposite of NASA’s approach as a possible vandalisation of the sites
    • if NASA is so concerned about other activities, why they don’t offer serious teams a funding to upgrade their navigation systems and avionics from the base teams could afford themselves?
    • why is NASA so US-centric, speaking in these directives having in mind only US hardware? They could show the respect for the heritage of others who went to the Moon, and gain more respect advocating for whole heritage of the human kind
    • the shoot to the Moon of the private teams competing for GLXP more then 40 years after NASA has been there (and abandoned to develop on that reach further) is not of the lesser historic achievement in the case of success
    • at last, if the traces of earlier missions mix with traces of later, the differentiation of traces should be a pice of cake for serious scientist


  4. JURBAN is taking these guidelines only as recommendations. Our robot with no wheels and no rockets (airbag landing) is safer to Apollo hardware then most other GLXP teams.


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