Good news: Democrats introduce bill to build a national park on the moon or something

The story’s a day old but it’s too exciting not to blog. Not only do we get a new lunar stimulus program out of it, but maybe, if we’re lucky, a new federal Moon Ranger bureaucracy too.

Somewhere Newt Gingrich is reading this headline and thinking, “Go on.”

The bill from Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) would create the Apollo Lunar Landing Sites National Historical Park. The park would be comprised of all artifacts left on the surface of the moon from the Apollo 11 through 17 missions.

The bill says these sites need to be protected because of the anticipated increase in commercial moon landings in the future.

“As commercial enterprises and foreign nations acquire the ability to land on the Moon, it is necessary to protect the Apollo lunar landing sites for posterity,” according to the text of the Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act, H.R. 2617.

The measure would allow the government to accept donations from companies and foreign governments to help manage the landing sites and “provide visitor services and administrative facilities within reasonable proximity to the Historical Park.”

“Visitor services”? If you’re visiting the moon and you haven’t brought your own “services,” you’ve got bigger problems than sightseeing.

They also want the Apollo sites designated as official UNESCO World Heritage landmarks, which lends an interesting nuance to the word “World.” But that’s probably the only route here to carving out the Apollo sites as no-go areas for the rest of the planet. Under a 1967 UN treaty signed by most countries (including the U.S.), you can’t stake a claim of national sovereignty to any part of outer space. It’s the “province of all mankind.” If Vladimir Putin wants to send a few cosmonauts up to plant a flag with Edward Snowden’s face on it on the Apollo 11 site — a scenario that feels less unlikely than it should, given the state of relations with Russia these days — there’s nothing stopping him legally as far as I know. You’d have to amend the treaty, and even then there’s nothing stopping him in practice besides a strongly-worded White House letter of disapproval. As interventionist as O may be, he’s not about to deploy troops to the moon to protect old landing sites. Or is he?

How did this become a legislative priority worthy of introducing a bill in the House, anyway? The Apollo sites can’t be more than a few acres; commercial interests have the whole rest of the moon to shoot for, and if they end up dumping on a site that’s sacred to Americans, they’ll deal with reprisals here at home. That’s incentive enough to keep them away. Did I miss something important in the news lately about China eyeing a dilithium crystal mine underneath what’s left of a U.S. moon rover and now we need to act fast? Or is this just a way to jumpstart new funding for American space initiatives by appealing to a source of national pride?

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