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?


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I believe that because we don’t know as much about space and the area that is obtainable by man at the moment, we can’t determine who it belongs to. We could always follow the first come first served concept but then again it wouldn’t be fair to developing countries who have more important priorities before space exploration which is for the moment a completely optional way for countries to spend their money. I think that in the meanwhile of knowing more about space, it should belong to the United Nations because they are neutral and won’t just give it all to one country. I think it is the only way that until we know more we can make sure that space belongs to everyone and not just one country. Because every country will want their part of space if we can actually live on another planet or get resources from other planets in our solar system, the UN could decide at that point of sharing the area in an equal manner.

Space travel has always been a futuristic dream for many of us. The possibilities are as endless as the universe itself. But, already, the human race has started seeking the ownership of things it can barely touch. In itself, it is not shocking since everything on our planet is owned by someone in some way or another. Why is it so important to declare the possessions of everything and to actually try to possess at much as possible? It is the root of our capitalist society that want to expand, but can we really say that our society’s rules apply to the entire universe? I like to think this debate over propriety of the moon, and the rest of the universe as a matter of fact, is a much more deep and complex problem than who owns it. I believe in future space exploration, and I rejoice myself thinking that one day we might get there; however, it will most likely create conflicts around the globe.

Between having nations take possession over the moon or an international cooperation owning it all, I do not believe that it will make such a big difference. Either way, following capitalism, the moon will be exploited for its resources in order to make the best revenue out of it. Although I believe both leads to the same direction, I think that and international cooperation of nations might allow a more equal distribution of resources, but who are going to be in this cooperation? The rich nations? Every nation? That is also one thing that might not turn out to contribute to the fair share of the moon.

In my own opinion, outer space is neither a heritage to humanity nor land that follows the laws of our planet. Taking for example another planet that supports life, with a dominating species living on it. How could we impose our regulation or claim their territory? It seems like both would lead to more than just colonization, but also segregation and even maybe annihilation, depending the technological advancement of other societies. I am not saying in itself that possession is always bad. We all need our personal space and item required for our survival. But, I certainly don’t believe that we are entitled a divine right over everything like it seems to too often be what we do.

If we look at the United Nations Outer Space Treaty of 1967, it is a good initiative that can probably prevent a cold war over the claim of the moon. It is also most probable that the possibility of ownership mixed with capitalism will lead to the participation of private companies to outer space exploration. The other major problem, not mention previously, which I see in the cooperation idea is agreement. If people from the same culture and same country have difficulties agreeing in our political system, how can we expect a more diverse group, with much more diverse idea to agree with each other? Also, how could we prevent the more powerful nation from controlling the expansion?

Also interesting, there is an article in the Focus magazine about the ownership of space. The interesting point is that they present multiple aspects of what it means to own parts of space and what could be the different means and reason to do it. It also gives a small insight on current nation plans for space exploitation.


When someone goes on a new territory, he normally takes possession of it. Since the United States first when on the moon, many people believe that they should own this planet. This subject brought my interest, since I like astronomy.

Currently, this territory is a common area. In 1967 and 1979, treaties regarding all space around earth were signed by many countries. Those treaties prohibited countries or private companies to take possession of anything outside the earth. But not everyone agrees with those treaties. Since Americans were the first humans walking on the moon, should they own the moon? This question implies the ethical principle of justice, because many people think that the current situation is unfair for the United States.

To response to Tieme’s question, I think that nobody should own any land outside the earth. I think that unoccupied territories should remain common, to allows scientists from all over the planet to make experiments on other planets. I agree with Tieme’s argument stating that those areas should all remain common territories, because it will in fact allows all countries to cooperate. I think that research on other planets would progress much more rapidly if every country could work together.

Scientists have already discovered that the moon is full of helium-3, a very rare gas on earth. This fuel has a high potential since it is very powerful and it does not pollute the environment. Since the moon is a common territory, who should have the right to use this kind substance?