"The moon belongs to America, and eagerly awaits the arrival of our astro-men."
-- The Simpsons
"Let anyone who despises the position of the moon get up and correct it."
The United States was the first nation to land on the moon. 1969.
Neil Armstrong. Everybody knows that one.
Does that make it American property?
I don't believe that the world has a protocol for who owns undiscovered land anymore --
there isn't really any frontier left, and we are now sensitive to the needs of indigenous
peoples. I suppose that if government ships happened upon an uninhabited, unclaimed
tropical paradise, they'd probably hold onto it. But there's a fine
line between a cay and a continent.
Reasonably, America can't claim the entire moon. Maybe the part that the Lunar Lander left
marks on. Maybe where the flag stands.
This sounds like a debate. It's time to quote sources.
From NASA's "Ask the Space Scientist":
"No one does. It is by international treaty understood to be a free
property. I do not believe that corporations or individuals may legally be allowed to own any
part of it according to Space Law."
I swear, he actually said "Space Law." Original capitalization preserved.
While this is a very pretty answer (and reminiscent of the Kellog-Briand Pact), when a
corporation (government, individual, whatever) acquires the resources to establish any kind of
settlement on the moon, they will find a way to do it, and they sure as hell are going to
claim the land that they build it on.
So all the high-falutin' principles of Space Law are essentially null and void in this case.
While the particular U.N. statement that the Space Scientist refers to is
just about universally ratified, who is really going to stop, say, Gillette, from building a
moon colony? Nothing, if they can get their shit together.
The complete text of the treaty in question, "Treaty on Principles Governing the
Activites of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other
Celestial Bodies", is available at http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/SpaceLaw/outersptxt.htm .
Global Administration, or The Me-Me-Me Problem
In theory, the moon should be autonomous. A rotating group of nations could
administer it and manage its everyday affairs. (Isn't idealism great?) There are a number of
problems with this plan.
Nobody can ever agree on anything. Who, as a simple example, enforces the law on the
moon? England? Russia? The United States? Zaire? What two nations have
ever really been able to agree on a set of laws? This is a low-level problem, but it's one
that goes all the way up. How about taxation? How about mutual agreements to bring people back
The US wouldn't allow it. The US, notably, does not recognize Antarctic
claims made by any other nations. Antarctica is here, it's accessible, now. The official
position on this is something to the effect of "You can use it, but we can throw you off if we
feel like it." Any upstart nation that thinks that the United States government will sit
back while they claim half of Luna has another think coming.
Property claims. If the moon becomes a habitable place, who owns the land?
Entertainingly, "the Lunar Embassy" has been selling chunks of land on the moon for years.
Thousands of people own one. They cost $16 and are 1,777 acres in size. This humorous aside
illustrates the point. The world is past colonialism and cannot easily hand out prime real
estate to wealthy landowners, or those privy to the secrets of the United Nations court.
Disputes over land rights would last forever.
A rather lousy summary
The bottom line is that this is not an issue that will be arising anytime soon. We are
fifteen years past the date when politicians predicted that we would have at least three
settlements on the moon, and we haven't made much progress. The Columbia
disaster will, of course, set things back even further. By the time that NASA or any foreign
space agency has the resources to set up shop on the moon, the debate will probably have
been resolved in an equitable fashion that only a skilled politician could dream up.
Until then, keep watching the skies.
"Ask the Space Scientist Archive." http://image.gsfc.nasa.gov/poetry/ask/a10913.html,
available online at time of writing.
http://www.spacefuture.com is spectacularly useful for research on the subject.