BY JUSTIN CHAN WITH REPORTING FROM TIME
On July 20, 1969, Americans Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon. It was a defining moment in American history. More U.S. missions to the moon followed. Now, two congresswomen want to preserve the lunar landing sites by granting them the same protection given to national historical parks. On July 8, Representatives Donna Edwards of Maryland and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas introduced a bill called the Apollo Lunar Legacy Act, which would establish a national park on the moon.
Protecting the Landing Sites
The purpose of the act is to preserve the sites for scientific research and to improve public understanding of the Apollo program. Apollo is the name of the spacecraft used by American astronauts between 1969 and 1972. If passed, the bill would protect artifacts, such as footprints and equipment, left behind during the seven Apollo missions. It would also require the United States to ask the United Nations to designate the Apollo 11 landing site as a World Heritage Site.
“In light of other nations and private entities developing or already having developed the ability to go to the moon, the United States must be proactive in protecting artifacts left by the seven Apollo lunar landings,” Congresswoman Johnson said in an email message to TIME For Kids. “This bill will help ensure that this unique aspect of our cultural heritage is preserved.”
Some critics say that the bill does not require immediate attention because NASA does not have plans to return to the moon. Countries like China and Japan have only hinted about sending people there around 2025, but no one knows whether that will happen. Other critics question whether the bill can be enforced and say that it may even violate an international treaty. In 1967, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed that no country could make a claim on the moon.
In May 1961, NASA announced the Apollo program, with the purpose of landing on the moon. In 1967, plans for the first manned Apollo flight ended tragically, when a fire broke out in the Apollo 1 spacecraft during a ground test. All three astronauts on board were killed. The next year, NASA conducted several unmanned flights around the Earth and a manned flight around the moon. In 1969, the country finally achieved its first successful moon landing, when astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon’s surface.
NASA would continue to send missions to the moon in the 1970s. In 1971, Apollo 14’s David Scott, Alfred Worden, and James Irwin were the first to use a lunar rover. The following year, John Young, Thomas Mattingly, and Charles Duke became the first to land in the lunar highlands. The last flight of the Apollo program took place in December 1972.
Now, more than 40 years since the last Apollo mission, the Apollo Lunar Legacy Act is making its way through Congress. “I know that it can sound far-fetched to say that we are going to have a national park on the moon,” said Congresswoman Johnson. But she believes it’s important to preserve the lunar landing sites. “These are an important reminder of what has made America great and serve as an inspiration for future generations.”