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Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the moon in 1969. The US is now in talks with China about how to protect it and other traces of the Apollo 11 mission. Photo: AFP

US and China talking about how to preserve Neil Armstrong’s footprint on the moon, top scientist says

  • The US began discussions about protecting ‘relics’ from the Apollo 11 mission after Chinese lunar rovers started operating, state TV told
The United States and China are talking about how to protect Neil Armstrong’s footprint and other traces of the first humans to step on the moon, a Chinese researcher has revealed.
Li Hongbo, a senior researcher and deputy chief engineer at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, told state broadcaster CCTV there was no reason to worry about China’s Yutu lunar rovers destroying the first human footprint left on the moon “at the moment”.

But she said during Monday’s interview that since China had started exploring the lunar surface, the US had been “very enthusiastic” about discussions on “how to protect mankind’s historical relics on the moon”, which also include the American flag the Apollo 11 crew planted in 1969.

She described the talks as “very interesting”, adding that it reflected China’s emergence as a global space leader.

Neil Armstrong is reflected in Buzz Aldrin’s helmet visor in a famous picture taken on the moon. Photo: Neil Armstrong Nasa via AP

“When you are powerful, people come to you for negotiations. Before, no one would come to talk about these issues,” Li said.

“When landing on the moon was just an exclusive US technological capability, [the US] didn’t have to think about the ownership of minerals on the moon or who would destroy its historical sites.

“Now that China has the capability to land on the moon, the US has suddenly realised that these issues need to be discussed and that’s why these concerns are surfacing.”

In 2020, the United States passed a law called the One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act to protect American landing sites on the moon, but it only applies to the small number of companies that work with Nasa.

The Yutu – or Jade Rabbit – is named after the animal that in Chinese myth lives on the moon with the goddess Chang’e, after whom China’s lunar programme is named.

China’s Yutu-2 lunar rover is still operating on the far side of the moon. Photo: Xinhua

It landed on the surface of the moon in December 2013, becoming the first rover to operate there since the Soviet Lunokhod 2 stopped operating in 1973.

The Chinese rover survived for more than 900 days, well beyond its expected lifespan of three months.

Its successor, Yutu-2, then became the first rover to land on the far side of the moon in January 2019. It is still operating, making it the longest-lived of all lunar rovers.

China’s space programme is continuing to break new ground. On Tuesday the Chang’e-6 lunar probe successfully landed back on Earth with the first rock samples collected from the far side.
A footprint left by Buzz Aldrin, the second man to land on the moon. Photo: Reuters

China and the US are also racing to be the first country to send astronauts back to the moon since the Apollo programme ended in the early 1970s.

But while the space programme is an enormous source of national pride in China, it has also attracted a strain of conspiratorial nationalism.

Earlier this year the China Association for Science and Technology had to debunk an online flurry of conspiracy theories that the moon landings were faked.

It pointed out that the social media frenzy was based on people misunderstanding a garbled comment made by a lunar scientist during a live TV interview and there was plenty of evidence, including several kilograms of samples collected by Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, to refute it.