The House of Representatives recently passed legislation on Wednesday, 12/16 to provide protections for artifacts found on the moon during the Apollo-era, and also passed the renaming of a NASA facility after the first man to walk on the moon.
The House passed the One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act, a bill introduced last year by Senators Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), where it was unanimously passed around the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission in July 2019.
The bill aims to protect hardware and other artifacts left behind by the US government's Apollo moon landings and similar lunar missions by enforcing a series of voluntary NASA guidelines formed in 2011, on which practices are best for preserving these sites. NASA released these guidelines during the Google Lunar X Prize competition, an event where teams were proposing lunar landing missions that could potentially be close to previous Apollo sites.
Those Apollo sites are historic. Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), chair of the House space subcommittee, said they “tell the story of humankind’s extraordinary journey to the moon. They have historical, archaeological and inspirational value, and it’s up to us to work to protect them”
The Senate's original version of the bill would have exacted any federal agency that authorizes lunar activity to require the licensee to follow the proposed NASA guidelines. However, when the House-passed the bill, it instead requires NASA to comply with these guidelines in its contracts, grants, and other agreements with companies and organizations, like their partners in the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.
“The bill does not create any additional regulatory authority,” said Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), ranking member of the space subcommittee. “Instead, the bill offers a carrot, rather than a stick. If the private sector wants to leverage the vast experience and resources that NASA offers, they simply must abide by NASA’s own internal policies.”
These new changes mean the Senate will once again have to pass the bill. Horn said the Senate would be ready to do so once the House passes it.
The House also passed on a voice vote S. 2472, the “Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility Act.” The bill states to rename NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio, to the Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility. It was originally presented by Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) during September 2019 and passed unanimously in June.
Plum Brook Station, which is currently operated by NASA's Glenn Research Center, is best known for its thermal vacuum chambers and other facilities for testing spacecraft and launch vehicles, such as the Orion spacecraft. Members insisted it made sense to name the center after Armstrong, since he is an Ohio native.
“It is truly appropriate that a world-class aerospace test facility in the state of Ohio be named for a native son and one of the world’s most accomplished and dedicated pilots,” Horn said.
Plum Brook Station isn't the only NASA facility to be named after the first man on the moon. President Barack Obama signed a bill in 2014, which passed unanimously by Congress to rename NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California, to the Armstrong Flight Research Center.
The swift passage of the two bills in the House of Representatives was similar to a goodbye to Horn, who lost their re-election campaign in November after serving one term. Babin said “Her tenure as chairwoman of the space and aeronautics subcommittee was marked by significant change and accomplishments by our nation’s space program,”
“It’s truly been an honor to be able to work with you on these issues,” Horn responded. “Space is one of those areas where it is, and should be, bipartisan, where we can come together for the best interests of our nation to continue to advance discovery and to encourage innovation.”