All told, the Moon has about a hundred sites where people have left their mark, according to For All Moonkind, a non-profit that seeks to preserve human heritage in space.
[...]Legally, "the sites themselves aren't protected at all," said Michelle Hanlon, a law professor at the University of Mississippi who co-founded For All Moonkind in 2017 after the head of the European Space Agency Jan Worner joked that he wanted to bring back the American flag.
"So the boot prints, the rover tracks, where items are on the site, which is so important, from an archaeological standpoint, they have no protection," she added.
[...]NASA has adopted recommendations, for example, that future expeditions should not land within two kilometers (1.2 miles) of Apollo sites.
In the US Congress, senators have introduced a "One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space" bill.
But the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 is very explicit: "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."
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"Once you start making exclusionary zones, and stopping other countries from their free use and exploration of space, you're running up against the basic premise of the Outer Space Treaty," Jack Beard, a space law professor from the University of Nebraska, told AFP.
To be sure, the treaty says each space object must be registered by its country, a safeguard against irresponsible behavior by private entities.
These artifacts also remain the property of the entity which placed them, effectively barring theft.
But its loopholes concern lawyers, space agencies and the UN, and not only over the issue of protecting heritage.
Moon traffic is likely to grow in the coming decades and the vague principles of cooperation enshrined in the treaty are not seen as sufficient to regulate it.
[...][Tanja Masson, a professor of space law at Leiden University in The Netherlands] suggests the creation of an international body to distribute priority rights, without granting sovereignty, as is done to manage satellites in geostationary orbit.