This past week museum personnel dismantled our Apollo 11 exhibit. Really, there were not a lot of items. We displayed a souvenir edition of Life Magazine, the premier photo journal of the day. Additionally, several local citizens donated newspapers covering the mission. We also received several collectables made by the Bradford Exchange that they had marketed heavily at the time. We also looked on the internet to see if there were any items available that a local collector might be interested in purchasing for loan/gift to the museum. It turns out, most of the historical items a museum might be interested in were left at Tranquility Base.
We thought a replica of Neil Armstong’s footprint might be fun to have. We didn’t find a museum quality replica, but we did find a few that made us laugh. The Lego Store in Budapest, Hungary had a Lego kit to make the footprint with. There was a movie prop footprint, a key chain footprint, a Zippo lighter with a raised footprint on it, and even a lapel pin footprint. Obviously, the only solution would to be to go to the moon and make a casting of the original. It sounded funny at the time, but the more we investigated, the more things became serious very quickly.
It turns out that in 1967, two years before Apollo 11’s historic mission, the United States government, with the advice and consent of the Senate, signed a treaty that no one could own the moon. The treaty also stated that any object left on the moon would forever remain the property of the country that placed it there. So, does that mean the United States owns Armstong’s footprint, but not the moon dust that makes it up? Robert Capelotti, a noted anthropologist from Penn State posed this, “If the US owns the archaeological remains of the first footprint on the moon, how to protect the former without disturbing the latter.”
Yes, our space explorers claimed the moon for all mankind, even left a plaque stating such. But, we also stabbed the surface of the moon with an American flag, an act that for centuries, nations have used to claim a territory as theirs. Do we not have some right of ownership here? This footprint is as much a symbol of our heritage as the Liberty Bell or our Constitution. We began to ask ourselves, “Should not the landing site of Apollo 11 be preserved as a national historical landmark?”
Recently Israel crashed a lunar vehicle on the moon. India is launching moon probes and China plans to be there shortly. According to the scientists that monitor the instruments left behind by the Apollo program, the moon “rings like a bell” each time a manmade object crashes into it. America’s billionaires are themselves in a race to get in the space tourist business. SpaceX Corp has already launched rockets capable of reaching the moon. Google Lunar is offering a $30 million dollar prize. Jeff Bezo, President of Amazon, has recently unveiled a mock up called the Blue Lunar ship designed to take tourists to the moon. Can it be far off that Amazon Prime members will buy tickets to get to the moon with a two day transit time? On arrival, they’ll probably check into the Trump Moonscape Resort and Indoor Golf Course. The activities will be all the things you can do on a cruise ship plus moon walking and sub-orbital trips to the Apollo sites.
There have been a couple of minor efforts by our Congress to protect the Apollo sites, but as is typical, the result is just words (specifically “it is the sense of Congress that the President should initiate a diplomatic initiative…”) and no action. NASA has published guidelines for moon explorations, but they are just that – guidelines.
We came across a couple of websites that proclaim they want to preserve the Apollo sites. Most have beautiful websites, list their many achievements and awards, have several buttons for donations, and in the end really have done nothing. All appear now to be concerned with all objects in space, not just the Apollo sites. Frankly, for we as Americans, there is only one item that counts and that’s Armstong’s footprint. The rest is just junk and calling it space junk doesn’t make it more valuable or interesting. None of it, when compared to Armstong’s footprint, is validation that man broke the bonds of earth and traveled to another world.
The footprint that is a symbol of “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” is just pressed moon dust. Will we lose Armstong’s footprint because of the careless swipe of a visitor’s hand… or even the act of a space terrorist?
The next mission to the moon was Apollo 12, and when November rolls around, we have some premier, one of a kind items, tied to our community items to exhibit. Until then, we will continue to ponder what might be done to protect a valued national treasure. Please feel free to stop by the museum and tell us your thoughts or drop us an email at email@example.com.
Your Vanishing Texana Museum is open every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 11-4. Parking and admission are free at our 300 South Bolton location.