Lunar law New laws to protect the historic Apollo lunar landing sites could be flawed, creating a direct conflict with international law and a violation of US treaty obligations, according to space law experts.
Legislation introduced into the United States Congress on 8 July 2013, designates the Apollo landing sites and US equipment on the Moon as a United States National Park, under the jurisdiction of the US Department of the Interior.
However the legislation could be seen as a declaration of US sovereignty, according to Dr Henry Hertzfeld, an Adjunct Professor of Law at George Washington University.
Hertzfeld, together with Dr Scott Pace, who is Director of the Space Policy Institute at the George Washington University, point out that existing treaties mean United States laws cannot be applied in space.
Writing in the journal Science, Hertzfeld and Pace explain that the proposed Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act would violate the United Nations Outer Space Treaty, 1967.
"We're suggesting a different way, which would perhaps be more internationally acceptable of accomplishing the same purpose of preserving the sites on the Moon," says Hertzfeld.
Timing is everything
Hertzfeld and Pace believe a new United Nations treaty would take too long to achieve UN general assembly approval.
"The treaty process is very slow and we're seeing developments that could mean other governments, China for example, or even private companies, try to put things on the Moon," says Hertzfeld.
Instead, Hertzfeld and Pace are proposing the United States and Russia, the only two nations to have performed "soft landings" on the Moon so far, establish a bilateral agreement that could later be offered to other nations.
"Something like this could be an executive branch agreement as well a memorandum," says Hertzfeld.
"You want to try to act in a reasonable, fairly quick period of time to get some sort of multilateral agreement or treaty ... just to agree that you leave my stuff alone and we'll leave your stuff alone."
Hertzfeld and Pace believe such an agreement would avoid any declarations of sovereignty on the Moon while reinforcing existing space treaties.
The issue has come to the fore with China announcing plans to send its first probe to land on the lunar surface in the next few weeks.
The new mission follows on from China's first Moon orbiter mission Chang'e One, which flew in 2007. A follow up orbiter mission called Chang'e Two was launched in 2010.
Beijing says the Chang'e Three lander mission will also carry a lunar rover named YuTu (Jade Rabbit), which will explore the surrounding terrain. The rabbit was Chang'e's pet in Chinese folklore.
Between 1969 and 1972, six manned Apollo missions touched down on the surface of the Moon, marking the only occasions humans have walked on another world.
A further 13 robotic spacecraft carried out soft landings on the lunar surface in the decade between 1966 and 1976, during the height of the Cold War.
These included five American Surveyor landers and eight Soviet Union probes, including the two Lunokhod moon buggies.
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