Who cares what happens to astronaut artifacts on the moon? All humans should. The US One Small Step Act is the first law enacted by any nation that recognizes the existence of human heritage in outer space.
On December 31, 2020, the One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act became law.
It requires companies that are working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on lunar missions to agree to be bound by otherwise unenforceable guidelines intended to protect American landing sites on the moon.
However, it is also the first law enacted by any nation that recognizes the existence of human heritage in outer space.
That’s important because it reaffirms our human commitment to protecting our history — as we do on Earth with sites like the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, which is protected through instruments like the World Heritage Convention — while also acknowledging that the human species is expanding into space.
To do so, we must recognize landing sites on the moon and other celestial bodies as the universal human achievements they are, built on the research and dreams of scientists and engineers spanning centuries on this globe.
The lunar landing sites — from Luna 2, the first human-made object to impact the moon, to each of the crewed Apollo missions, to Chang-e 4, which deployed the first rover on the far side of the moon — in particular bear witness to humanity’s greatest technological achievement thus far.
The act also encourages the development of best practices to protect human heritage in space by evolving the concepts of due regard and harmful interference — an evolution that will also guide how nations and companies work around one another.
There is a long way to go toward an enforceable multilateral/universal agreement to manage the protection, preservation or memorialization of all human heritage in space, but the One Small Step law should give us all hope for the future in space and here on Earth.