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              The moon rises behind the U.S. Capitol Dome in Washington as Congress works into the late evening, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012 to resolve the stalemate over the pending "fiscal cliff." (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
              The moon rises behind the U.S. Capitol Dome in Washington as Congress works into the late evening, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012 to resolve the stalemate over the pending "fiscal cliff." (AP Photo/J. David Ake)   

Lawmakers propose national park on the moon

Washington politicians are regularly derided for living on another planet. But if the plans of two Democratic lawmakers come to fruition, they may one day be able to picnic away from the planet as well.

The Hill reports that Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards and Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson are seeking to create a national historical park on the surface of the moon, commemorating the Apollo lunar landing missions that took place between 1969 and 1972.

“Establishing the Historical Park under this Act will expand and enhance the protection and preservation of the Apollo lunar landing sites and provide for greater recognition and public understanding of this singular achievement in American history,” reads H.R. 2617, a bill jointly submitted by the two representatives on Monday.

The lawmakers believe that the growing spacefaring capabilities of foreign nations and private corporations means it’s only matter of time before somebody else lands on the moon. They’re worried that without explicit protection by the federal government, the artifacts strewn about the various Apollo landing sites may be damaged or stolen.

The park would be administered jointly by NASA and the Department of the Interior, which is already having trouble keeping its Earthbound parks open for terrestrial visitors. The two agencies will have one year following the bill’s passage to determine how to monitor the landing sites, manage access to them and accurately catalog the protected artifacts.

The law would also require the Department of the Interior to submit the original Apollo 11 landing site to the United Nations for designation as a World Heritage Site.

It’s unclear that the UN would support such a plan, however. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, signed and ratified by the United States and 101 other countries, explicitly states that “outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

To stay within the treaty’s framework, NASA and the National Park Service would have to claim jurisdiction and control over only the Apollo artifacts themselves, not the moonscape that surrounds them. That could prove a tricky proposition.

But if a national park on the moon is signed into law, you better contact the Park Service quick. People wait up to twenty years for a permit to raft down the Grand Canyon; imagine how long the wait will be for a chance to sit on the lunar rover.

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