Timeline of U.S. Actions to Protect Lunar Historical Sites and Artifacts

Lunar Historic Sites
Source: NASA

Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities

The Artemis Accords

One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act

Lunar Landing and Operations Policy Analysis

2011: NASA’s Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities

In 2011, NASA published recommendations for “space-faring entities” regarding how to protect and preserve the historic and scientific value of U.S. government lunar artifacts.

NASA recognized the steadily increasing technical capabilities of space-faring commercial entities and nations throughout the world and further recognized that many are on the verge of landing spacecraft on the surface of the moon. Accordingly, NASA worked to establish guidance for approaching U.S. Government (US) space assets on the lunar surface – to assert US hardware ownership, and to protect general scientific and historic aspects of those sites.

NASA performed propellant/plume and lunar regolith impingement analyses and evaluated the risks and concerns of damage to the heritage Apollo landing sites resulting from future spacecraft descent/landing and associated surface and low-altitude flight mobility.

From a scientific perspective, many sites are still active (e.g., Apollo retro-reflectors), and continue to produce material, biological, and physical scientific data associated with long-term exposure of human-created systems (e.g., witness plates) to the lunar environment. NASA has also considered impacts to non-Apollo US lunar artifacts.

This document provides recommendations for lunar vehicle design and mission planning teams. The recommendations are intended to apply to US artifacts on the lunar surface – these artifacts include:

2020: The Artemis Accords

In 2020, NASA included human heritage site protection as part of the Artemis Accords. The Artemis Accords is a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and other world governments participating in the Artemis lunar missions.

The countries entering into the Artemis Accords decided that because heritage protections are of value to the entire community and because they could also be abused, the criteria for assigning sites heritage protections should be developed through multilateral diplomatic efforts.

2020: One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act

In 2020, Congress passed the “One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act,” which directed NASA to hold its contractors and partners to the 2011 recommendations.

This bill directs NASA to:

  • add the recommendations described in the 2011 document 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;
  • inform other relevant federal agencies of the recommendations; and encourage the use of best practices, consistent with the recommendations, by such agencies.

NASA may waive the conditions or requirements as it applies to an individual contract, grant, agreement, partnership or other arrangement pertaining to lunar activities carried out by, for, or in partnership with NASA so long as:

  • such waiver is accompanied by a finding from NASA that carrying out the first directed obligation of this bill would be unduly prohibitive to an activity or activities of legitimate and significant historical, archaeological, anthropological, scientific, or engineering value; and
  • the finding is provided to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate no later than 30 davs before the waiver takes effect.

2022: Lunar Landing and Operations Policy Analysis

With more than 20 missions aiming to land on the moon by 2026, a NASA study has found that the protection and preservation of the historic Apollo landing sites remains a concern.

NASA released its “Lunar Landing and Operations Policy Analysis” in 2022 after examining some of the challenges with having numerous missions at the moon. NASA investigated the technical and policy considerations involved with selecting new lunar landing sites and what actions should be taken to protect lunar surface operations, as well as U.S. interests.

The study proposes that NASA’s 2011 recommendations be implemented for the Apollo and Surveyor sites and that they be applied to commercial and international partnerships as required by law.