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NMSU professor receives NASA award, work continues on Apollo landing site preservation

New Mexico State University anthropology professor Beth O'Leary received a Group Achievement Award from NASA for her part in the development of guidelines for future moon landings.

NMSU anthropology professor Beth O'Leary received NASA's group achievement award for her part of a team of experts who developed guidelines for future visitors to the moon that will help protect artifacts on the lunar surface. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

O'Leary is among a group of researchers, senior NASA engineers, and lunar scientists who received the honor this fall. The team drafted "NASA's Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Lunar Artifacts," http://www.nasa.gov/directorates/heo/library/reports/lunar-artifacts.html. The guidelines, released last summer, recognize the significance of protecting the Apollo lunar landing sites.

O'Leary, an associate professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, is considered one of the top experts in the field of space archaeology and heritage.

"It is an honor to receive this award for the work our team did with NASA to help protect our historic lunar legacy," said O'Leary. "Since the guidelines went out, we have been getting support from international organizations such as ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites). My colleagues and I have reached out to the head of the Russian space agency, who has recently supported preservation of space heritage on the moon."

O'Leary and Chico State University archaeology professor Lisa Westwood have spent the last decade working together on efforts to raise awareness about space heritage and preservation of Tranquility Base, where the first humans stepped foot on the moon.

So far, the professors have been successful in adding the site to the historic registers of both California and New Mexico. A key partner in the effort to protect space heritage is Robert Kelso, former director of NASA's Lunar Commercial Services. Kelso, now with Kelso Aerospace Consulting, has started the ball rolling in Hawaii to add Tranquility Base to its historic register.

In addition, O'Leary and Westwood have collaborated with a California congressman to draft the Tranquility Base National Historic Landmark Act, which is pending in the U.S. Congress. O'Leary recently received a call from the counsel for the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology to discuss the legislation.

"We have to plan for this now before commercial spacecraft start landing on the moon. If we don't have a preservation framework in place, we run the risk of destroying important cultural resources. If we don't protect them, features such as Neil Armstrong's historic footprints on moon could be obliterated. In archaeology, once you lose evidence of an event, it's gone forever."