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The Final MissionPreserving NASA's Apollo Sites$

Lisa Westwood, Beth Laura O'Leary, and Milford Wayne Donaldson

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780813062464

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813062464.001.0001

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Looking Ahead

Looking Ahead

(p.189) 10 Looking Ahead
The Final Mission

Lisa Westwood

Beth Laura O’Leary

Milford Wayne Donaldson

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

The concluding chapter of this book looks ahead to the future of the preservation of space heritage and uses the examples of the sale of space heritage artifacts on the commercial market as a potentially harmful trend for preservation that is emerging. The authors recap the importance of historic preservation, raising awareness, and taking action before it is too late.

Keywords:   Preservation, Future, Space heritage, History

There are many protocols for protecting heritage on Earth, and governments have instituted sanctions against looting and the destruction of their sites and export of their heritage. Looting of sites to provide collectors with valuable art and artifacts is an enormous threat to the study of humanity’s past. The illicit art market is seen to constitute the third-largest international black market, after arms and drugs (Walsh 2012). One usually does not think of scientific and technological artifacts as being valuable as cultural goods and commodities, but Italy’s Law 1089 of 1939, which was a model for other legislation defining newly discovered beni culturali (cultural goods) as the property of the state, was revised in 1999 to add “technical and scientific instruments” to the list of cultural goods (Walsh 2012: 238). Space objects have an ongoing market. The Internet provides a global marketplace. One example of an interesting sale is a small pin flag used on the Moon as part of the personal gear of an Apollo 16 astronaut, Charles Duncan, who is legally permitted to sell it (figure 10.1). It was auctioned online in January 2010 for $16,000 (in US dollars) (O’Leary 2015: 9). The value of the objects still on the Moon would be enormous.

Many nations object to the export of their cultural heritage to citizens and museums of more powerful, wealthier nations. UNESCO’s Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transport of Ownership of Cultural Property was created to address this problem and has been an important international protocol, among others, on the subject of Earth’s cultural heritage. This convention defined cultural property as designated by each (p.190)

Looking Ahead

Figure 10.1. ALSEP pin flag, an auctioned lunar surface artifact from Apollo 16

(photo courtesy of Castel V. Ortiz Collection).

state to include those that were scientifically important—important to the history of science and scientists (Walsh 2012: 238–39). This 1970 treaty was joined in 1972 by the World Heritage Convention, which is fundamental to the management of humanity’s heritage. While it focuses on sites and architecture, the 1972 Convention includes sites that “are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science” (UNESCO 2013a). As discussed in chapter 6, the World Heritage Convention has a series of criteria for sites that can be eligible for the World Heritage List. It makes individual nations responsible for practicing protective measures that would maintain sites put on the list by a committee that determines which sites are to be included on the World Heritage List. The World Heritage Committee also can designate sites that are threatened by neglect, looting, natural disaster, or war (UNESCO 2013b). As Justin St. P. Walsh (2012) points out, what is useful in using the definition of significant cultural property by UNESCO’s Convention is that this is a definition that has been agreed to internationally. The benefits of including properties on the World Heritage List are not just symbolic but supported by the state parties, providing technical assistance, training, and emergency assistance as well as funding. Other benefits include raising public awareness, increasing tourism, and gaining academic attention (Westwood 2015). (p.191) One of the problems of using UNESCO’s World Heritage List is that in the United States only a site that is designated as a National Historic Landmark can be considered as a World Heritage site, through a competitive process determined by the consensus of the U.S. national committee that recommends it to UNESCO for listing. Early efforts reveal that both NASA and the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, which also oversees National Historic Landmarks, did not see themselves as having jurisdiction over the Tranquility Base lunar site and remarked that U.S. federal preservation law does not apply on the Moon. Harry Butowsky reported that during his study for the Man in Space series, elements on the Moon were not to be considered for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, because of international law regarding ownership and because the National Historic Landmarks need to be site-specific.

Ironically, the presence of the first human footprints preserved on Earth (at Laetoli, Tanzania) are listed on the World Heritage List. The first footprint on another celestial body “rises to the same level of significance” but is not considered (Westwood 2015: 135). Unfortunately, at this time, because of the required process, Tranquility Base cannot be listed, but protocols and processes can change. The change in NASA’s commitment to preservation from the initial rebuff in 2000 to the issuance of guidelines in 2011 illustrates the agency’s change of heart.

The Law of the Sea, the Antarctic Treaty, and the 1972 World Heritage Convention (discussed in chapters 6, 7, and 8) are useful because of the way in which they are involved in preserving extraterritorial cultural heritage. Space is not within any nation’s territorial boundaries, and the relevance of other international historical agreements and their relevance cannot be overstated. Most of the focus on the threat to space heritage has been on the commercial exploitation of space and planetary protection, rather than on the history of preservation of heritage (Walsh 2012). Following the examples of existing agreements that are international, that concern places like marine and Antarctic environments that are difficult to reach, and that have as their primary actors nations, with the major purpose of scientific research, helps clarify the direction for future agreements and management of space heritage. A preservation structure for space and other celestial bodies should be (p.192) based on existing principles in historic preservation. This area of investigation is critical to solving the problem of mitigating future impacts to significant sites in space and on other celestial bodies.

Although no current international framework exists to protect significant cultural resources in space, there are clear precedents in existing law and agreements to develop a framework for the future. Future space missions can take into account planning and postoperational phases of their missions; the last phase of a mission or “end of life” decommissioning should include preservation alternatives in a plan as it directly affects the material evidence (Rogers and Darrin 2009: 803).

Stephen Doyle (2009) has suggested a direction for nations that wish to assume leadership in the preservation of space heritage. With the United States as the main actor, he suggests that to spur the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to consider space heritage, there should be first an approach to the U.S. State Department. Doyle (2009) argues that relevant proposals should come from the professions of archaeologists and historic preservationists. A working group of professionals would have a series of international workshops that determine the proper pathways and how to prepare preliminary proposals. Useful and credible proposals to national governments and expert advisors (other nations could have their own working groups in interaction and cooperation with the United States) would be followed by a request that these proposals be forwarded to the appropriate international officials (Doyle 2009). If the commitment to space heritage is matched with the endurance and drive to create a meaningful and substantive discussion of a course of action, then this could lead to international actions that encourage and finally facilitate preservation.

Equally important is recognizing that there are sites on Earth that are currently in use that are not viewed as historically significant but that these sites possess the capacity to eventually achieve significance. One example is the Kodiak Launch Complex, a commercial rocket launch facility for suborbital and orbital space launch vehicles located on Kodiak Island, Alaska. Alaska Aerospace Corporation owns and operates the complex. The launch facility opened in 1998 and has handled sixteen launches, most for the U.S. government. The first orbital launch from the Kodiak Launch Complex was an Athena I rocket on (p.193) September 30, 2001, which carried out the Kodiak Star mission for NASA and the Space Test Program, launching Starshine 3, Sapphire, PCSat, and PICOSatS. After a launch failure in August 2014, Alaska Aerospace planned to repair and upgrade the facilities to support larger rockets, but Alaska Governor Bill Walker stopped that work in December 2014 citing a state budget shortfall. The Kodiak spaceport has two launch pads with a mission control center with sixty-four workstations with high-speed communications and data links. There is a clean room for preparing satellites for launch, a fully enclosed seventeen-story-tall rocket assembly building, and two independent range and telemetry systems. The complex sits on 3,700 acres of state-owned land. Launch pad 1 is designed for orbital launches, while launch pad 2 is intended for suborbital flights. Forward thinking is critical to have preservation mechanisms in place now to deal with aging sites that may eventually be recognized as historically important.

Few would argue that facilities like the Apollo launch pads at Launch Complex 39, the vehicle assembly building, the crawler and crawler way, and the launch clock and flagpole at Cape Canaveral deserve preservation. No one disagrees with the need to preserve Mission Control in Houston; in fact, as of 2016, NASA is consulting with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation on a programmatic agreement regarding its restoration. These are all clearly in the top echelon of space history facilities that are recognized globally as being important. However, ancillary structures, like the Kodiak Launch Complex and some of those highlighted in this book, are not often afforded the same visibility and considerations. The demolition of the last remaining historic Saturn V Launch Umbilical Tower in 2004 is just one example (see Launius 2011). The rate of loss of space heritage sites is increasing, despite the emergence of public preservation advocacy groups like Save the LUT and Save Hangar One. Federal agencies like NASA must develop priority lists of preservation strategies, mitigation plans, or longterm management plans that carefully balance the need for historic preservation with ongoing missions.

NASA, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Army, and many associated entities originally connected with the Apollo program continue to invent and exploit new technology and to advance scientific (p.194) and engineering knowledge with extended space programs. Many of these postmission sites, facilities, and structures that were significant in the early history of science and technology are now inactive, have been deemed obsolete and have been destroyed, or simply have been lost through lack of adequate maintenance or neglect.

Although the number of properties formally recognized through the Man in Space Historic Landmark Theme studies by the National Park Service as significant for historic scientific and technological achievements was small in the late 1980s, the number of historically significant scientific properties is actually quite large when viewed through the perspective of the processes and criteria of the National Historic Preservation Act.

As we stay on the cutting edge of technology in space exploration and discovery, many of the facilities and much of the equipment associated with these advancements remain in active use today, and many have been or need to be upgraded or heavily modified and await continuous changes. However, the appropriate role of historic preservation in the decision-making process is generally lacking in the management of these facilities. Adding to this dilemma is the existence of hundreds of private institutions that received federal support through research grants for these technological advancements but are generally absent from any oversight to preserve the facilities and objects.

The rapid technological changes in twenty-first-century space exploration and discovery by established institutions, along with the introduction of private companies interested in exploiting space travel and “heritage” tourism, take on increased importance. Both federal agencies and private companies are obligated to present and future generations to consider the effects of their actions on the historic values embodied in selected facilities.

As we move forward in protecting our history through the preservation of these space-related resources, it is not sufficient to leave only memories, perceptions, or expressions captured in an obscure report filed away from public recognition. Tangible assets of the space exploration era, albeit difficult to reuse but nonetheless significant, must be preserved as icons for what they can teach us and future generations about a very special period during the nation’s and the world’s history, (p.195) when we both faced the threat of nuclear holocaust and celebrated the incredible achievement of putting a human being on another celestial body. To do this, we must preserve the extraordinary cultural resources of the space exploration period for generations to come (Donaldson 2012b). As Butowsky told Milford Wayne Donaldson in 2016, “We have the engineering and technological knowledge to go to the Moon, the planets, and anywhere we want to go in the solar system but lack the common sense to preserve and interpret this technology for this and subsequent generations of the American people. The destruction of these resources will leave us historically ignorant about the space program.”

In President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in January 2016, he challenged the country to aim higher, pointing to successes of the past. He said, “In fact, many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative. This brings me to the second big question we have to answer as a country: how do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges? Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon.”

Preservation of our heritage is also one of our nation’s greatest achievements. President Obama said that the “spirit of discovery is in our DNA,” and as proponents of preserving the exploration of space and all the achievements before it, we agree.

Humanity has crossed many frontiers in its history. The ultimate frontier of space is the last frontier. Investigation of our solar system is continuing with the exploration of Mars and the New Horizons voyage, which reached the dwarf planet Pluto just before this book was written in 2015. Who could have imagined in 1915 where humanity would have the capacity to go in 2015? The story of those events is contained in both the documentation and the material record of space exploration; it is a history that deserves a fighting chance of being preserved. (p.196)