Who owns the moon? Silly question perhaps, but we have laws on Earth to govern zones at sea where countries have exclusive development rights. What about space? Is it good that we don’t have those laws in space? Maybe, maybe not. Lets look more at this.
The Fun Part
April 1, 2061
Apartment Complex at Lagrange Point 2
Jack’s little room was nice – he had purchased the apartment about a month before, and it seemed like he was just getting settled. When his door chimed Jack nearly jumped out of his skin. Not because he wasn’t used to visitors…Jack had been one of the most popular people in his social circle back home…but up here Jack didn’t know anyone yet.
Opening the door Jack found the sheriff, or what passed for one up here. What were they called again? Venators. That was it. How is latin still being used up here…so weird.
Jack was snapped out of his revere when the venator coughed and pulled out a tablet.
“Yes that is me. Is everything ok? Did something happen?”
Oh no no nothing has happened. I am just following up on a lead about a squatter.
“Squatter? I haven’t seen anyone out of place, but then again, I haven’t really been out to the rest of the station much since I got here last month.”
“Oh no sir, I think you misunderstand me. You are the squatter.”
Dumbstruck Jack responded “excuse me what? I bought this apartment just last month”
“Ah yes, so since then this station has…um…changed owners. And they have ordered everyone who hasn’t legally paid for their homes to be evicted.”
“But I did buy this!”
“Well, so thats the thing, you haven’t. You bought your apartment from Constellation Holdings. They are no longer affiliated with this station. As such, everyone needs to either purchase or rent their property from Atlantica.”
“Atlantica? The casino company?”
“Yes that is one and the same.”
“But how does them owning the station mean they get to force me to re-buy this apartment?”
“Oh well, since they own the station they make the law. That is the way it has always been up here. I’m sorry to cut you off, but I really do need to be moving on to the next apartment. I am sorry that this is news to you, but I still need you to either pay for your apartment or I will be forced to evict you at the end of the week. Have a good day sir”
“….uhhh…I..I…..thank you….I guess….”
The Real Deal
The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, signed two years before the U.S. moon landing, is an idealistic document that effectively rules out the possibility that a country can “own” territory in space, even if it manages to plant a flag there. The treaty also states that Earth nations can use the moon and other celestial bodies only for peaceful purposes, forbidding the creation of military bases on those entities and the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space.
Today, as space becomes a legitimate commercial target, there are growing questions about whether the Outer Space Treaty is up to the job. There are at least dozen or more nations and private firms eyeing the lunar surface for everything from mining to scientific research. These questions are about to get seriously complicated…like more complicated than dating two members of the same family…at the same time…
But Why Do We Need A Law?
Say someone wants to set up a hotel on the moon. Or open a restaurant on Mars. Or offer technical services to spacecraft traversing the two. Such commerce, lawyers and analysts say, will require legal and regulatory frameworks as it does on Earth, and existing space treaties don’t provide enough detailed guidance.
The Outer Space Treaty, in which dozens of nations, including the United States, laid out the basic legal guidelines for dealing with celestial bodies. In the 1980s a man named Dennis Hope thought he saw a loophole: The treaty declares that no nation can assert sovereignty over the moon, but it fails to say clearly that individuals can’t.
So Hope sent a note to the United Nations, laying claim to the moon as well as the other planets and moons in the solar system, and went to work. In the years since, Hope has made a tidy fortune selling deeds to plots on the moon and other celestial bodies.
Ok Maybe Not…But This Is Getting Weird
While clearly not an enforceable claim – what happens when a company or country can enforce its claim to the moon. What happens when a country places weapons on the moon capable of shooting down ships travelling to the moon, effectively allowing a blockade?
The US took an initial step towards un-complicating things with the 2015 Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. This law basically says if you find it you get to keep it…well if you are an american company and you find it then you can keep it. So maybe the problem is still if either of these companies reaches the celestial body they aim for, they can do what they want with the material they find.
In theory, since space law is currently set country by country, companies could start shopping for Earth‘s most lenient regimes. The less heavy-handed a government is, the more companies would want to incorporate under its banner, and the more of the space pie that government may end up claiming.
May sound like fiction…but then again…50 year ago the idea that we would have a handheld device capable of instantaneous communication worldwide, with access to all of the accumulated knowledge of mankind, was also fiction. So sometimes fiction really does precede history.
We have started to explore living in orbit – but lets take a closer look at that next time. Before then – feel free to get a refresher here, or a look at some of the mundane parts about maintenance, or sleeping.