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NASA’s Boeing-built moon rovers are granted Washington state landmark status

Alan Boyle
·3-min read
Lunar rover
Apollo 17’s lunar rover sits at its resting place at the Taurus-Littrow landing site in 1972. (NASA Photo)

Three hot rods on the moon are now official Washington state historic landmarks, thanks to a unanimous vote by a state commission.

The thumbs-up, delivered on Friday during a virtual public hearing organized by the Washington State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, provided state landmark status to the rovers that Boeing built at its facilities in Kent, Wash., and that NASA sent to the moon for the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions.

King County awarded similar status more than a year ago, but the state commission’s 9-0 vote — delayed for several months due to the coronavirus outbreak — literally takes the landmarks to the next level. The rovers are now eligible for listing in the Washington Heritage Register.

California and New Mexico set the precedent for declaring landmarks on the moon. Those states laid claim to the artifacts left behind at the Apollo 11 site at Tranquility Base, by virtue of their connection to the folks who built them in those states.

Washington state’s connection to the rovers widens the range of lunar landmark locales to the Hadley-Apennine region (Apollo 15 in 1971), the Descartes Highlands (Apollo 16 in 1972) and the Taurus-Littrow region (Apollo 17 in 1972).

In ILoveKent’s report on Friday’s hearing, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph is quoted as saying the rovers give her city a sense of “immense pride for our community, and show the innovation that went on and continues in Kent.”

The fresh attention shines a spotlight not only on Kent’s past contributions to the space effort, but also on the current contributions to lunar exploration being made by Blue Origin, the Kent-based space venture founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

“It’s also served as an inspiration to our young students,” Ralph said. “And this is a recognition of ingenuity and innovation that gives us an opportunity to tell this historic story.”

Friday’s action doesn’t confer any added legal protection to the lunar sites, and the federal government doesn’t have a process for creating national monuments on the moon. In fact, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty rules out making a national claim on lunar territory. However, preservation of historic sites and artifacts on the moon is one of the requirements of the Artemis Accords, which nations are required to accept in order to join NASA’s Artemis moon program.

Astronauts and history buffs won’t be able to visit the landmarks until years from now, but you don’t have to go to the moon to see a lunar rover: Seattle’s Museum of Flight has a Boeing-built engineering mockup on display, and the city of Kent had a kid-friendly mockup of the rover built to put in a park.

Update for 1 a.m. PT Oct. 26: The folks at For All Moonkind point out that technically speaking, it’s the rovers that have landmark status, and not their resting places. We’ve revised some references to make that clearer:

For further details, check out the 77-page application for heritage recognition.

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