New Law Regarding “Human Heritage in Space” Protects Lunar Artifacts

new act protects lunar artifacts from destruction, removal

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Artist illustration of Sputnik 1 satelitte
Several types of satellites orbit the Earth: astronomy, atmospheric studies, communications, navigation, reconaissance, remote sensing, search and rescue, space exploration, and weather satellites. Photo by Gregory R Todd / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

According to CNN, historical markers made by humans on the Moon are now legally protected from removal or destruction. “On December 31, 2020, the One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act became law,” the article said. “It requires companies that are working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on lunar missions to agree to be bound by otherwise unenforceable guidelines intended to protect American landing sites on the Moon.

“It is also the first law enacted by any nation that recognizes the existence of human heritage in outer space.”

The article pointed out that it reaffirms our commitment to preserving human history, which we already do on Earth.

More than 50 years later, the Apollo 11 lunar landing is not as well-known to all generations of Americans. Here’s where it all started.

Rocket Man

Often in history, inventions are weaponized for purposes of war. The space program went the opposite route—World War II advances in rocketry led to peaceful inventions used for space exploration. The Nazis worked on superweapons besides the atomic bomb, one of which was the V-2 missile.

“The young German engineer Wernher von Braun, earlier a rocket club member in Germany, had been put in charge of a research project into the military use of rockets, in particular, to produce the dreaded V-2 missile,” said Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, Lindsay Young Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in a lecture for The Great Courses.

“In 1945, the Americans brought von Braun to the United States, along with his team who had built the V-2 rockets. In America, von Braun became a very effective spokesman for space exploration; he managed to infect others with the dream that possessed him personally.”

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union recruited aeronautical engineer Sergey Korolyov, who had formerly been arrested under Stalin and put to work in a prison laboratory, to drive the Soviet space effort.

Then came the Cold War.

Lighting the Fuse of the Space Race

During the Cold War, the Space Age grew out of two outstanding space programs as the United States and the Soviet Union competed to see who could make the first series of milestones in space exploration. Due to national security and foreign policy objectives, both nations worked on producing satellites that could be used for information gathering and rockets to launch the satellites into orbit around the Earth, which also could be used in wartime as intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“The Soviet Union amazed the world when after intense secrecy, it launched its satellite, called Sputnik, on October 4, 1957,” Dr. Liulevicius said. “As a result, the American media spread a mood of alarm, seeing this as proof of a Soviet technological leap which the United States could not yet match. Soon, money poured into scientific research and scientific education.”

The following month, Sputnik 2 put the first animal—a dog named Laika—into space. In January 1958, the American space program, led by the Army and von Braun, reached space with Explorer I. But the race entered its second leg immediately afterward.

“While intense secrecy surrounded the Soviet effort, publicity that surrounded the founding in 1958 of NASA was meant to excite the people at large,” Dr. Liulevicius said. “This project grew to huge proportions; at its height during the Apollo program, 34,000 employees worked directly for NASA and hundreds of other companies were involved in providing equipment and materials for the contract, with more than a third of a million contractors.”

According to Dr. Liulevicius, more milestones soon followed for the Soviets. Cosmonaut Yury Gagarin became the first human in space on April 12, 1961. He was followed in 1963 by Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, and in 1965 by Aleksey Leonov, who achieved the first spacewalk.

The United States outpaced the Soviets in the late 1960s and put Apollo 11 on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

This article contains material taught by Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius. Dr. Liulevicius is Lindsay Young Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He earned his BA from the University of Chicago and his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.