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New Mexico designates moon landing site a cultural property: one giant leap for historic preservation

New Mexico became the second state to officially designate the artifacts left behind at Tranquility Base on the moon in its official registry, the New Mexico Register of Cultural Properties, the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division announced today.

The Cultural Properties Review Committee voted unanimously April 9 to approve a nomination prepared by CPRC Vice Chairwoman Beth O'Leary and students from her graduate-level Cultural Resource Management course at New Mexico State University, along with the Apollo 11 Preservation Task Force. On Jan. 29, California listed the 106 objects left behind–including a spacecraft lander, a U.S. Flag, the lunar laser ranging retroflector, space boots and other items that had to be jettisoned to lighten Apollo's load for the return trip to Earth–on its Register of Historical Properties, working with O'Leary and the task force, which also submitted the California nomination.

"Every state has a connection to the exploration of space, " O'Leary said. "We feel that New Mexico has a very strong and current relationship to space exploration, especially Robert Goddard's early launches in Roswell, the development of the V-2 rocket at White Sands Missile Range and the Spaceport in southern New Mexico."

The New Mexico nomination states that the site is significant for its relation to the Cold War era, transportation and exploration. The landing on July 20, 1969, happened during a turbulent period in U.S. history marked by massive dissent against the Vietnam War, cultural and social upheaval and political assassinations. The moon landing united most Americans, and much of the world, over the marvel of the first two humans to set foot on the lunar surface. The footprints of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin still are visible on the lunar surface.

The California Register listing may have been the first time cultural resources not located on Earth were formally recognized in a state or national register. But in 2006, New Mexico put the lunar landing site on HPD's New Mexico Cultural Resources Information System, a Web-based inventory of state cultural sites, as Laboratory of Anthropology Site 2,000,000, and commemorated the event with a plaque at the New Mexico Museum of Space History.

Earlier this year, O'Leary and task force member Lisa Westwood, of Chico State University, presented their ideas to the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, an association of the nation's state historic preservation offices. The Apollo 11 Task Force set a goal of listing the moon artifacts on UNESCO's World Heritage List, which would officially acknowledge the universal importance of the Apollo 11 mission. They also plan to designate it a National Historic Landmark and have consulted with the U.S. National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites officials Katherine Slick, former New Mexico State Historic Preservation Officer, and Neal Silberman.

The Apollo 11 Task Force, with the addition of the NMSU students, worked on the New Mexico nomination. Members included Lisa Westwood, ECORP Consulting Inc, Rocklin CA; Ralph Gibson, Placer County Museums, Auburn, CA; and John Versluis, Texas Heritage Museum, Hillsboro, TX. The NMSU anthropology graduate students that worked on the nomination include Sahrah Bliss, Robert DeBry, Matthew Punke, Deneve Sam, Reagyn Slocum, and Jaime Vela.

The students, Verluis and O'Leary formally presented the nomination to the CPRC at the April meeting. O'Leary wanted to involve her students for the practical experience of working on a register nomination. Because international law prohibits any nation from laying a claim to the moon, only the objects associated with the moon landing would be protected by the register listing.

New Mexico now formally recognizes the significance the first lunar landing and its ties to the history of New Mexico. It is part of the state's official historic record.

For more information on the Lunar Legacy Project, visit: http://spacegrant.nmsu.edu/lunarlegacies