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Archaeology researchers make case for moon artifacts and New Mexico

A group of New Mexico State University graduate students along with their professor are preparing a nomination to the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee. The opportunity could secure New Mexico as one of the first states to recognize the cultural, archaeological and historical importance of the Apollo 11 artifacts left on the moon.

Beth O'Leary's graduate seminar in Cultural Resource Management will travel to Santa Fe to present a case for Apollo 11 moon artifacts to be listed on the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties. Pictured are Matt Punke, Bob Debry, Beth O'Leary, Jaime Geronimo Vela, Deneve Sam, Sahrah Bliss and Reagyn Slocum. (Photo by Jaime Geronimo Vela)

The decision to present to the CPRC came after California listed the artifacts on the state's Register of Historic Resources in January. The Apollo 11 Preservation Task Force, a group of cultural resources professionals, put forth the nomination to the California Register.

One of those professionals is NMSU's own Beth O'Leary. She wanted to take advantage of the momentum immediately and involved her graduate students in the process as researchers. They will be looking at the association of the artifacts on the moon's Tranquility Base to New Mexico's space history.

"Every state has a connection to the exploration of space," O'Leary, professor of anthropology, said. "We feel New Mexico has very strong and current relationships with space exploration from the V-2 rocket to the Spaceport."

In fact, California's legislation may have been the first time cultural resources not located on Earth were formally recognized on a state or national registry, but in 2006 New Mexico listed the lunar landing site in the Archaeological Records Management Section (ARMS), the state archaeological and historical database.

On March 4, O'Leary and task force member Lisa Westwood of Chico State University will present their ideas to the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO), an association that addresses historic preservation in each of their own individual states.

O'Leary said an ideal outcome would be eventually recording these moon artifacts on UNESCO's World Heritage List, which would officially acknowledge the universal importance of the Apollo 11 mission.

The Apollo 11 Preservation Task Force is made up of professionals with academic qualifications from Texas, New Mexico and California, who have been working to gain formal recognition of the objects at Tranquility Base.

The Lunar Legacy Project, funded by the NMSU New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, catalogued those objects in order to expand the general public's knowledge about archaeology and the science and technology that went into the Apollo 11 mission. The Lunar Legacy project is co-directed by O'Leary and Jon Hunner, history department head.

Articles in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and BBC World News quoted O'Leary when the decision came down in California; she was identified as a leader in the emerging field of space heritage and archaeology.

"It's interesting because it's an emerging field for archaeology, but it applies the same archaeological method and theory we use to record the distant past to recent history," O'Leary said.

Students in her Cultural Resources Management graduate seminar are researching places in New Mexico associated with the Apollo program and space exploration. Such places include White Sands Missile Range, the Holloman Air Force Base test track, New Mexico Museum of Space History, Robert Goddard's house in Roswell and the Spaceport.

"This process has been an exciting and informative hands-on experience in regards to understanding and implementing such a unique site to the New Mexico Register of Cultural Properties," graduate student Reagyn Slocum said. "It is important that New Mexico recognizes its vested interest in space exploration, including having an integral part in the successful completion of the Apollo 11 mission and its continuation to pave the way to new space endeavors with the construction of Spaceport America."

The CPRC reviews nominations for items to the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties. The group will present to the CPRC on April 9 in Santa Fe. Graduate students include Sahrah Bliss, Bob DeBry, Matt Punke, Deneve Sam, Reagyn Slocum and Jaime Geronimo Vela.

For more information on the Lunar Legacy Project, visit http://spacegrant.nmsu.edu/lunarlegacies.