Will the moon become the 51st state or a property of Coca Cola? If one space policy expert's initiative is approved, it's very possible that in the future land on the moon and on planets in our solar system could be purchased.
Since 1967, 100 countries have signed the Outer Space Treaty (Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies), an international space treaty. It permits nations and private corporations to conduct mining activities on the moon and on other celestial bodies, but it does maintain a number of aspects.
The treaty’s principles include that space bodies shall only be used for peaceful purposes; the party will be responsible for all damages incurred in ventures and prohibits weapons testing, military bases and “the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind.”
12 years later, the Moon Treaty was established that also prohibits military use, bans exploration without approval, forbids any state from claiming sovereignty and permits any state to have equal access to research on celestial bodies (pending approval).
Rand Simberg, a space policy expert, believes that private companies should be allowed to purchase land on the moon or planets for mining, tourism or even to sell property. Simberg argues that if governments would allow property rights on celestial bodies then corporations would start to invest in these ventures and space flight could be accelerated.
He introduced the Space Settlement Prize earlier this month at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a United States conservative think tank group. In his remarks, Simberg explained that the treaties do not prohibit the private sector from claiming property.
“The ratification failure of the Moon Treaty means there is no legal prohibition in force against private ownership of land on the Moon, Mars, etc., as long as the ownership is not derived from a claim of national appropriation or sovereignty (which is prohibited by the Outer Space Treaty),” stated Simberg in his CEI report titled "Homesteading the Final Frontier."Michael Listner, a U.S. space attorney and writer, believes the U.S. could withdraw from the 1967 treaty, but that it would take a lot of political willpower to participate in such a controversial feat and the government would undergo a lot of heat.
“It’s similar to the way properties were pioneered in the Old West,” said Listner in an interview with Wired.com. “The government opened up land and people went to settle it.”
When it comes to environmental concerns on celestial mining, Simberg is not worried: “There are people who believe that rocks have rights; I’m not one of them.”
Should we permit the purchase of the planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn? Digital Journal reported early last year about the legality issues of private corporations mining the moon, which has also prompted moral objections.
For those wondering if mining bodies in space would be profitable, the moon has vast amounts of water ice, helium-3 and graphite. This would generate billions of dollars in profits and settle some of the resource shortages (in the short-term), such as the shortage of helium-3, which has forced the price to soar from $150 per litre to $5,000 per litre.