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An Idea For Interplanetary Parks


Have you ever considered setting aside parks on other planets? This map identifies possible locations of parks on Mars. Graphic by Charles Cockrell, professor of astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh, and Gerda Horneck, of the Institute of Aerospace Medicine at the German Aerospace Center.

Proposals seem to constantly surface for additions to the National Park System here in the United States, but have you ever thought about establishing parks elsewhere in the universe? The folks at have.

And really, what better way to preserve a landscape than to set it aside as a park even before humans reach the planet where it's located?

"It's a wilderness out there in outer space. And as robotic surrogates set the stage for human footprints on Mars and other planetary bodies, just how much respect for other worlds should we have?," writes Leonard David,'s Space Insider columnist. "One suggested response would establish planetary parks for the solar system, an answer that ties together space science and exploration, ethics, law, policy, diplomacy and communications."

What sort of landscapes might such parks preserve? Well, Mars certainly has some interesting landscapes: extinct shield volcanoes, polar ice caps, deep canyons, deserts, mountain ranges. And maybe a historic park where the Mars rovers landed and surveyed the Red Planet.

Part of the idea of setting aside unique landscapes as parks would be to protect them from human space exploration. And not just government-sponsored exploration, but that of private companies.

What rules might govern such planetary parks? Well, Mr. David, former director of research for the National Commission on Space and a past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society's Ad Astra and Space World magazines, offers the following suggestions for parks on Mars:

* No spacecraft or vehicle parts to be left within the park

* No landing of unmanned spacecraft within the park

* No waste to be left within the park

* Access only on foot or via surface vehicle along predefined routes, or by landing in a rocket-powered vehicle in predefined landing areas

* All suits, vehicles and other machines used in the park to be sterilized on their external surfaces to prevent microbial shedding


This sounds like a great idea. I think Newt Gingerich proposed something similar.

Just think. If the parks are established right now, there could even be some provisions in the enabling acts that could preclude political meddling at any time in the future.

But what about concessions? Who would take care of lodging for visitors? And what about rocket fuel stations and restaurants? Has anyone checked with the local chambers of commerce to see what they think?

Imagine all the wrangling and haggling that could be eliminated if they are established now.

Probably makes more sense than most of what's happening on Capitol Hill these days.

I think that in the distant future when people regularly visit/live on the moon or mars sites like the first mars rovers and the lunar landing modules should be historic sites at least. Natural sites I think should wait for later.

I've tried in vain to find it, but I recall someone from Congress setting forth an idea for national monuments around the moon landing sites, Ranger Paul.

In any event, for whatever it might be worth, here's a link to an item in Salt Lake City's Deseret News from 2011.

One logistical stumbling block, I believe, is that no nation has any legal authority to claim property off-planet. I love the idea of protecting Martian landmarks in advance, but Mars does not belong to the United States. On the plus side, that also means no one can reserve extractive uses like mining rights off-planet either.

That said, I wonder if the moon landing sites could be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The U.S. has one NRHP site in Morocco (the American Legation in Tangiers) and a handful in associated states like Palau and the Marshall Islands.

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