Who Owns the Moon?
by Tieme on August 31, 2013 - 7:07pm
I like to think about our future as a species. A hundred or a thousand years from now, we will probably have changed in the ways we dress, communicate, harness energy and many more. Starting to lack space and resources for our growing population, we may leave Earth to colonize the Moon, Mars or who knows. So, following my interests, I was reading about space exploration when I came across an article from the New York Times entitled “The Man Who Sells the Moon” accompanied by a short documentary (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/11/opinion/the-man-who-sells-the-moon.html?_r=0 ). It is somehow funny and disconcerting at the same time. A man named Dennis Hope asserts that he owns the Moon (and Mars, Venus and Mercury for that matter) and sells extraterrestrial real estates for a living. The complete story of his business and whether it is ethical or even legal is interesting, yet I think it raises a more serious question.
Does outer space constitute a common heritage to humanity or is it subjected to the same principles of territorial occupation prevailing on Earth?
We will have to face this issue sooner than we tend to believe. Already two years ago, Japan proposed an ambitious plan to place mirror-like panels on the Moon that would reflect the sunlight towards the Earth in the form of a collectable energy ray. At that time, people were asking “who would own this great source of energy? Japan? It is not their Moon, why would they get all the energy?” Besides, the private space exploration business and space tourism are developing rapidly. However, a “universal outer space legal code” has yet to be decreed. Indeed, not every nation has signed and ratified the United Nations Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which still leaves certain questions unanswered. Still, this treaty supports the notion of common heritage, a position that I agree with.
It states that space is the “province of all mankind” and that “no nation by appropriation shall have sovereignty or control over any of the satellite bodies.” I think that if we do not respect this fundamental idea, one day a powerful nation will decide something similar to “we own the whole solar system” or “this is our galaxy” or “our universe”… My opinion is that the common heritage position is one that will encourage nations to cooperate instead of letting them compete and conflict over ever larger territories. Conversely, some people favor the Frontier Paradigm; it would basically imply that nations or commercial organisations can have ownership of outer space domains and that property rights laws would have to be fixed. Some of their main arguments are that space colonization will inevitably call for individualism at the expense of cooperation and that property ownership will serve as an impetus for private companies to pursue space exploration, thus accelerating our colonial development.
Considering these two opposing views, which one do you think is better to adopt for our future?