California lists moon junk as historical resource

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Seeking to preserve the site where humans first set foot on the moon, a California state panel on Friday registered a collection of 106 objects left by the Apollo 11 mission as an historical resource.

This NASA file image, dated July 20, 1969, shows one of the first footprints of Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin on the moon. The Apollo 11 crew consisted of astronauts Neil Armstrong, who was the Mission Commander and the first man to step on the moon, Aldrin, who was the Lunar Module Pilot, and Michael Collins, who was the Command Module pilot. REUTERS/NASA/Handout

The move by the state Historical Resources Commission marks the first such designation for cultural artifacts located other than on Earth, said Lisa Westwood, part of a team of scholars and museum professionals who applied for the listing.

The group hopes that placing the moon objects on California’s registry of historic landmarks and resources will lead ultimately to designating Tranquility Base as a United Nations World Heritage Site.

“We are elevating the profile of this resource, and instilling upon the public, which could include space travelers at some point, a sense of site stewardship and the importance of preservation,” said Westwood, an archeologist who teaches at Chico State University.

The collection encompasses about 5,000 pounds of objects, ranging from the bottom stage of the lunar lander to the American flag planted on the moon’s surface on July 16, 1969 by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

It also includes a seismic monitor left behind to record moonquakes and a high-tech mirror used to reflect laser beams aimed at the lunar surface from Earth to measure the precise distance between it and the moon.


Less lofty is an assortment of junk cast off by the astronauts -- space boots, tools, arm rests, empty food containers and bags of human waste -- to lighten their load for the takeoff from the moon back to Earth.

An inventory of the items was made through independent research conducted for several years by Ralph Gibson, a program manager at the Placer County Museums near Sacramento, with $22,000 in grants from NASA.

The artifacts were left spread over an area nearly 330 feet across.

But the listing was carefully written to include only the objects -- not the site itself or even the astronauts’ footprints -- because international law precludes any country or state from making a claim to the lunar surface, said Jay Correia, a state historian who oversees the registry.

California’s recognition was sought because aerospace firms and institutions based there led the way in “researching, developing and manufacturing the machinery that got men to the moon,” Correia said.

Westwood said her group would seek historic designations next from four other states -- New Mexico, Texas, Alabama and Florida -- that played a major role in the space program, before trying to get Tranquility Base listed as a national historic landmark and a United Nations heritage site.

“That would put it on the same level as the Great Wall of China or the Pyramids of Giza” in Egypt, she said. “This is the very first time a cultural resource not located on Earth has been listed on an historical registry.”

Editing by Paul Simao