Lunar Unity?


Alex Halperin argues that the “entire moon should be an international history and science preserve—an Off-World Heritage site, if you will”:

[A]n increased sense of conscience about the Apollo sites recently spawned a bill to preserve them. The proposal, put before Congress this past summer, is to eventually nominate them as UNESCO World Heritage sites. It’s not perfect. First, under the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, accepted by 101 countries, no nation can claim the moon as sovereign territory, an official prerequisite for nomination. And the bill doesn’t cover the rest of the moon—only where the astronauts landed and worked. Instead of passing piecemeal bills, let’s go all the way. The moon was part of Earth until about 4.5 billion years ago, according to current models. It could answer key questions about the history of our planet and therefore needs to be protected.

The idea is not without precedent:

[W]e’ve already reached global consensus on preserving an otherworldly place in this way:

Antarctica. The continent is managed by 50 nations under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty “with the interests of science and the progress of all mankind.” The treaty is short (just 14 articles), and the management duties are light (meetings to discuss updates, procedures, and scientific missions). But it works. For more than half a century, the agreement has allowed science and tourism to flourish in an area that belongs to both no one and everyone.

A preservation treaty for the moon would need a few special clauses. For example, while there’s a voluntary moratorium on mining in Antarctica, it doesn’t make sense to ban the practice on the moon: That’s one of the incentives to get us there. Rare substances, such as helium-3 (a possible fuel for nuclear power), are the sort of rewards that will motivate the development of private spaceflight and off-world habitation. So mining should be allowed, pending environmental-impact assessments similar to those conducted by the U.S. Forest Service. As for tourism, we don’t need to wrap the moon in no trespassing signs, but let’s keep ATVs away from important craters.

(Image of moon by Flickr user shahbasharat)