(Illustration: Sarah Gonzales)


Protecting our heritage sites – in outer space

The Taj Mahal and the Acropolis are both international heritage sites. For All Moonkind’s Michelle Hanlon, LLM’17, wants the same type of protection for historical archaeological sites on the Moon.

Story by Tom Kertscher

May 2019

Michelle Hanlon, LLM’17, wants the world to come together to agree on how we should protect the artifacts of our various space missions – the things we’ve left behind on the Moon and elsewhere. Some might see that goal as daunting – if not downright quixotic – but she is quick to point out how the international community came together to save some of the most precious objects on Earth: the monuments of ancient Egypt.

Hanlon, the associate director of the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law, recalls the efforts in the fifties, sixties and seventies by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Egyptian government to save the archeological treasures of Nubia. They collaborated to dismantle and reassemble the monuments, including a temple dedicated to the goddess Isis, moving them from one island to another to protect them from floodwaters caused by the damming of the Nile River.

“They actually appealed to the international community to say, ‘We need to do this, because otherwise we’re going to keep getting flooded,’” – putting the priceless temples at tremendous risk. “And the international community did that because they realized, sure, it’s in Egypt, but it’s part of human history,” says Hanlon, the co-founder of For All Moonkind, an organization dedicated to recognizing and protecting the six Apollo Lunar Landing sites and other important sites related to humanity’s exploration of outer space.

“I like to compare the first footprint on the Moon to our first upright footsteps in Tanzania. We protect those footsteps. And that first bootprint on the Moon is a memorial to the greatest technological achievement ever. And it should definitely have the same sort of protection and respect that we give our cultural heritage here on our Earth.”

Hanlon and her husband, Tim Hanlon, a marketing and communications executive, founded For All Moonkind in 2017. The overall goal is to create an international agreement to preserve human artifacts in space. Last year, the nonprofit made Fast Company’s list of most innovative companies. Perhaps more importantly, it earned permanent observer status at the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Hanlon says a recent presentation to that UN body’s legal subcommittee in Vienna was well received.

According to For All Moonkind, there are more than 80 historical archaeological sites on the Moon — from the crash site of Luna 2 to Apollo 11’s Tranquility Base to the tracks of Yutu — and they are at risk of being disturbed or lost as various nations carry out plans to put crews or robots on the Moon.

Hanlon traces her own interest in space to growing up the daughter of two diplomats, living overseas and, unburdened by American television, reading lots of books on space and the planets.

But only after 25 years of working as a mergers and acquisitions lawyer — and having children of her own who took an interest in aerospace — did Hanlon find her next career.

“It just sort of seemed like everything that we were doing was converging on this idea that space is the future. And I wanted to do something to give back and really look forward to the future, where it’s not just looking at dollars and cents but making a real difference,” she says.

“I definitely align myself with a group that would call themselves futurists. I see a human community on the moon, I see a human community in space. I believe in Star Trek,” she adds. “I think the realm of space has so much to explore and, you know, we are a species that has exploration in our DNA from the beginning of time.”

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