The Lunar landgrab – who owns the Moon, anyway?

the moonAfter a few decades of relative hiatus, there’s been a distinct increase of traffic around the Moon of late, and that has legal types scenting potential work in the offing. Once we start colonising our sister satellite – whether in person or via robot proxies – how do we decide who the territory belongs to?

Luckily for us, one Virgiliu Pop is already on the case. He’s a research specialist at the Romanian Space Agency (Romania has a space agency? Who knew?) who has been looking into the laws that might, by precedent, affect lunar settlements… and he reckons it’s rugged individualism and the pioneer spirit that will win the day:

“Homesteading is likely to transform the lunar desert in the same manner as it transformed the 19th Century United States,” he said. “Space is indeed a new frontier calling for individualism rather than collectivism, and its challenges need to be addressed with a legal regime favorable to property rights.”

As many empires have learned the hard way, maintaining control over distant colonies is no easy trick – and when the colony is at the other end of a steep gravity well, that’s only going to be more true. Anyone fancy a sweepstake on the period between first Lunar colony and first colonial secession? [image by jurvetson]

2 thoughts on “The Lunar landgrab – who owns the Moon, anyway?”

  1. There’s a treaty in effect, the “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies”, which bars the claiming of territory in outer space by any signatory. Specfically, “outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means”. There are 98 signatories, including all the nations currently having the capability to put anything at all into LEO or beyond.

    Whether or not anyone will honor that treaty is quite another question. And while the treaty bars “states” from claiming territory, that effect on private parties is disputed, but has never been tested, either by someone trying to exercise a claim, or by any court. The proponents of the treaty’s effect on private ownership claim the precedent of the non-territoriality of the high seas, but that’s been a subject of debate for a long time, mostly around the question of where territorial waters end and the high seas begin. Expect a lot of that sort of thing in space.

    My prediction is that the Moon won’t see much in the way of private ownership for a long time, if ever. It’s just too close to Earth for the powerful states to allow that. Beyond Earth, extractable resources will be the driver, assuming a profitable market exists. If the price of iron ore, for instance, is high enough that the cost to bring it to Earth surface from an asteroid allows a profit, there’ll be cowboys out there roping and branding asteroids.

  2. Although I agree private ownership of lunar real estate will be discouraged because of strategic military reasons (The Moon is A Harsh Mistress, anyone?), I would caution that strong property rights will be the foundation upon which meaningful future exploitation/colonization efforts will be built.

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