Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Who owns the Moon? Commercial Rights in space sought from NASA

NASA has a lot on its plate. With the budget taking money and its reach expanding, it is hard to really comprehend al the missions and projects they are able to accomplish. From keeping an eye on the Sun (they have the MMS mission launching next year and many others ongoing and planned), then there’s the Oceans & NOAA, move on to the Earth’s mantle, and the changes in the poles…it goes on and on. And so in a brilliant maneuver they have taken on commercial companies such as SpaceX or Orbital Sciences to assist in the resupply missions to the ISS and ultimately in the transfer of astronauts which enable them to not only do ALL that they do, but also look forward to Lunar colonies, Mars colonies, perhaps Titan colonies, and dare I say Alpha Centuri Bb. A contract with Russia has the cost PER SEAT on the ISS as $63 million – anticipated cost when SpaceX or one of the other companies does it? $1 million for the entire mission.

So obviously NASA has a plan. And this plan also involves possibly forming other commercial contracts for construction of lunar research labs up on the moon or Mars colonies (a tad farther in the future) and perhaps a rest stop, maybe a Bigelow rest area between here and Mars; sort of a cosmic refueling station. There is no doubt that opening up to the advantages of working with industry is a help, access to even more people and science can never hurt, but what do they get? Well, personally if I had a chance to go to the moon (besides being thrilled) if one company had NASA’s endorsement & one company didn’t, I’d take the company that did every time.

But now there companies are asking for a piece of lunar property or rights to mine an asteroid or settle on Mars and it brings up many interesting questions. Who owns the moon?

In 1967 there was a treaty ratified by 100 member countries of the UN and Article II of this Outer Space Treaty suggested that"Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject tonational appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."   That does not however, say that private appropriation is banned. But there was a more recent treaty – in 1979 a treaty known as the “Moon Treaty” attempted to close off this loophole that favored private appropriation and claimed a redistribution that benefited all nations would be best as the Moon is the “common heritage of mankind.” Needless to say, China, Russia, and the US as well as any other space faring nations did not sign it.

Perhaps the way to go about this should be the same rights that were in use in the Wild West? Also important is that this be run by the other nations that are space going. They will probably agree. It is hard to glean the combined expertise of NASA and a SpaceX if SpaceX or Bigelow or any one of the many companies doesn’t gain some lunar land. With all the expense in building a lunar Hotel, odds are Hilton won’t take it on if the land they build on can’t somehow be deeded to them.

Some people are likely saying this is way too soon to be considered, but in the real world there is planning and many years of work that goes into a lot of the initiatives NASA has in mind. Many of these companies are willing to shoulder certain expenses if the deal can be made for some land rights (or asteroid rights…) The legality of the land issue needs to be taken care of quickly - as well as the resources obtained from mining, or other possible gains from space. By the way, NASA, if you are listening (okay, reading) make sure you get a percentage of the gross!

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