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Tales of the Red Tape #20: The Outer Limits of Regulation

Posted By Diane Katz On September 26, 2011 @ 5:00 pm In Featured | Comments Disabled

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The Obama Administration has issued a record number of costly rules and regulations compared to its predecessors. But one set of new guidelines, in particular, takes government authority to new heights.

The moon, actually.

NASA has instituted “no-fly zones” and other limits on lunar liberty to ensure that future “space-faring entities” steer clear of the sites of previous U.S. missions, where there’s no shortage of “artifacts” to be found—including 30 “defecation collection devices” ditched by astronauts in favor of more valuable cargo.

The agency has also declared “no parking” for moon rovers at any of the Apollo sites.

Not that conditions on the lunar surface are all that hospitable to preservation: Moon temperatures swing from +250° F to –300° F, while ultraviolet and other forms of radiation are abundant.

Whether the U.S. government wields regulatory jurisdiction on the moon could be a subject of some debate among other countries. The U.N. Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (overseen by the U.N. Office of Outer Space Affairs) declares the cosmos to be “the province of all mankind.”

Still, the prospect of hordes disturbing the golf ball launched by Alan Shepherd’s six iron or the set of red towels abandoned by Apollo 12 prompted NASA to draft the guidance, which includes a prohibition on visits—human or robotic—to any part of the Apollo 11 and 17 sites.

Of particular concern to the agency is the Google Lunar XPrize, with $30 million in prizes to the first privately funded team to land a robot on the moon, propel it 500 meters, and transmit video images and data to Earth. There are currently 26 teams around the world in contention.

One can’t help but notice the contrast. Google, as a private entity, offers riches for innovation, while NASA, the government agency, issues rules.


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