National park on moon?

By Dale McFeatters

Scripps Howard News Service

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 15 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

In this July 20, 1969 file photo, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, the first men to land on the moon, plant the U.S. flag on the lunar surface. Photo was made by a 16mm movie camera inside the lunar module, shooting at one frame per second.

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

The U.S. National Park Service is underfunded by several billion dollars, considering the backlog in maintenance, the increased attendance with the need for greater upkeep and new facilities, the demand for more rangers and the necessity of adding lands that are under threat from development.

And in the current budget climate, help is not on the way.

However, a partial solution to this need for more national parks has come from an unlikely government source, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The space agency is in something of a lull right now, with a manned mission to Mars on indefinite hold and a return to the moon problematic.

With a certain amount of foresight, NASA has set limits around the six Apollo sites where Americans landed on the moon between 1969 and 1972 and laid down guidelines for tourists against the inevitable — but still far off — day they arrive there.

At a stroke, NASA has greatly added, at no cost to taxpayers since the landings are already paid for, to our stock of national parks, one requiring no investment from us, at least initially.

With no tourists, there will be no need for rangers, visitors' centers, bathrooms, walkways or signs warning people to stay out of the craters. There will be no need to protect against vandalism or root out invasive species, since nothing lives or grows there. Certainly there will be no need to warn against unauthorized campfires.

The moon parks will fall into that category of a park that we always meant to visit but never got around to.

The fact that nobody goes there doesn't diminish their historical significance. Neil Armstrong will forever be the first human to set foot on the moon whether tourists visit Tranquility Base and that part of the spacecraft Eagle — remember "The Eagle has landed"? — left behind.

Nobody visits Jumonville, Pa., even though George Washington started the first true world war there when his party of trespassers shot a French diplomat.

The one thing that might revive our moon-landing program is if the Chinese press ahead with their own and start hauling our stuff back to the Beijing Air and Space Museum.

Park Service astronauts will be back in no time flat, mere seconds ahead of the T-shirt and moon-pie concessions.

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