Human Heritage in Outer Space

Each of the Apollo Lunar Landing Sites and their predecessor robotic sites are evidence of humanity’s first tentative steps off our planet Earth and to the stars. They mark an achievement unparalleled in human history, and one that is common to all humankind.

For All Moonkind believes the United Nations should act formally to protect and preserve those sites and all our human heritage in outer space. Such an act would not be unprecedented. In 1972, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) introduced the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The World Heritage Convention, now boasting 193 State Parties, recognizes “that deterioration or disappearance of any item of the cultural or natural heritage constitutes a harmful impoverishment of the heritage of all the nations of the world.” Regardless of sovereignty, the Convention emphasizes “the importance, for all the peoples of the world, of safeguarding this unique and irreplaceable property, to whatever people it may belong.”

The UNESCO World Heritage Convention has been a great success, helping preserve natural and cultural landmarks around the world. From the Tsodilo in Botswana to the Taj Mahal in India, the achievements of humankind have been recognized and conserved — including fossilized footprints of a long-forgotten hominin species in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, evidence of the development of human bipedalism.

Shouldn’t our first footprints on the Moon merit the same recognition?

But the World Heritage Convention is not equipped to recognize territory in outer space. As such, For All Moonkind’s growing team of entirely volunteer space lawyers and policymakers from around the world are developing a new convention designed to protect our human heritage in outer space. It will be based in part upon the successful World Heritage model, as well as other Earth-based treaties like the Underwater Cultural Heritage Convention.

Currently, there are more than 80 historical archaeological sites on the Moon from the crash site of Luna 2 to Apollo 11’s Tranquility Base to the tracks of Yutu. Each bears witness to moments that changed, and advanced, our human civilization irrevocably. No longer are we tied to our Mother Earth. In incremental steps, the heavens have been opened for exploration, and celestial bodies for settlement. Certainly not every movement of human – or human-guided robot – on the Moon needs to remain sacrosanct. However, guidelines and the framework for potential protection should be set in place before revisits occur. The idea is not to stifle exploration, but to preserve, for present and future generations, those sites that meet certain agreed criteria.