By Andrea J. Harrington

As numerous governments and commercial entities plan ambitious expeditions into outer space and to celestial bodies, humanity’s heritage in space is threatened. Fifty years following the Apollo 11 landing, we have recognized the historic, scientific, and cultural importance of this event and other spacefaring firsts, but the existing means to protect the resulting heritage is inadequate. This Article examines the protections currently available to those objects and sites that represent the great achievements of humankind in using and exploring space, with a focus on Tranquility Base—the Apollo 11 landing site. Existing protections are analyzed under both cultural heritage law and international space law, focusing primarily on the language of relevant treaties in these fields. There have been several endeavors undertaken by the United States to protect the Apollo landing sites in general and Tranquility Base in particular, including the One Small Step Act passed by the U.S. Senate in July 2019. These actions are reviewed herein for appropriateness and efficacy. Recommendations to optimize the protection of space heritage in the future are then presented. This Article concludes that the most effective approach consists of a multistep process that can include unilateral actions, bilateral treaties, and a multilateral soft law solution, ideally culminating in a multilateral treaty before potentially leading to the formation of customary international law. Fundamentally, cooperation and good faith are the cornerstones of any solution to this issue under international law. It is important that the legal rules governing interaction with and preservation of these objects and sites be clearly determined to avoid irreversible damage to a unique and irreplaceable resource.

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Recommended Citation
Andrea J. Harrington, Preserving Humanity’s Heritage in Space: Fifty Years After Apollo 11 and Beyond, 84 J. Air L. & Com. 299 (2019).