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Bill to Protect Lunar Artifacts Signed into Law

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
January 3, 2021
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A close-up view, taken on Feb. 5, 1971, of the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LR3), which the Apollo 14 astronauts deployed on the Moon during their lunar surface extravehicular activity. (Credits: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A bill designed to protect artifacts where Apollo astronauts and spacecraft explored the surface of the moon has been signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act requires parties seeking a license to conduct activities on the moon to abide by recommendations, guidelines and principles issued by NASA to protect U.S. government artifacts.

“As we look forward to new expeditions to the moon and placing American boots where they have never gone before on Mars, it is crucial to safeguard the history of American exceptionalism and ingenuity in space, from Apollo 11 to the upcoming Artemis program missions,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who introduced the bill. “As the chairman of the Aviation and Space subcommittee and as a Texan, I am honored to help preserve these historic human heritage sites, while continuing to maintain a dominant presence in low-Earth orbit and beyond.”

NASA issued a set of recommendations on protection lunar artifacts in 2011. The new law requires the recommendations to be added “as a condition or requirement to contracts, grants, agreements, partnerships or other arrangements pertaining to lunar activities carried out by, for, or in partnership with” NASA.

The bill requires NASA to inform other relevant federal agencies of the recommendations and to encourage them to use best practices in exploring the moon.

The NASA administrator can waive the conditions and requirements if they “would be unduly prohibitive to an activity or activities of legitimate and significant historical, archaeological anthropological, scientific, or engineering value.”

“As we go forward to the Moon with the Artemis Program, NASA has been clear that we must do so sustainably,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “As part of the Artemis Accords agreements signed with partner nations, NASA has emphasized that protecting historically significant sites is critical, and I applaud the leaders of this legislation for their commitment to ensuring that future lunar science and exploration is done in a safe and transparent manner.”