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Home / Science / Who owns the moon? A space lawyer answers the compelling issue

Who owns the moon? A space lawyer answers the compelling issue



Under the space contract, the Moon and other celestial bodies, such as asteroids, can not become a "territory" of one sovereign state or another.

M Probably this is the most famous image taken of a flag: Buzz Aldrin standing next to the first US flag that was planted on the moon. For those who knew their world history, some alarm bells sounded. Less than a century ago, back on Earth, the planting of one national flag in another part of the world still meant claiming that territory for the Fatherland. Did the Stars and Stripes on the Moon express the founding of an American colony?

When people hear for the first time that I practice and teach as a lawyer, the "space law," they often ask, often with a big smile or a twinkle in their eyes, is, "So tell me who does the moon belong? "

Of course, the use of new national territories was a European habit applied to non-European parts of the world. In particular, the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Dutch, the French and the English created huge colonial empires. But while their attitude was very Europe-centered, the legal notion that flagging was an act of building sovereignty quickly remained firm and was accepted worldwide as part of the law of nations.

Obviously, the astronauts had more important things in their minds than thinking about the legal significance and consequences of that planted flag, but fortunately the problem had been resolved before the mission. Since the beginning of the space race, the US has known that for many people around the world, the sight of a US flag on the moon would cause major political problems. Any suggestion that the moon could, legally, become part of the American backwaters could raise such concerns and possibly lead to international disputes that are detrimental to both the US space program and US interests as a whole.

Decolonization could take place in 1

969 destroyed any idea that non-European parts of the world, though populated, were not civilized and thus rightly subject to European sovereignty – however, there was not one single person living on the moon; even life itself was absent.

Yet, the simple answer to the question of whether Armstrong and Aldrin have turned the moon, or at least a large part of it, into American territory through their small ceremony turns out to be "no." NASA or the US government intended The US flag should have this effect.

The First Space Contract

This response was recorded above all in the 1967 Space Treaty, to which the United States as well as the United States and the Soviet Union and all other space nations were a party Both superpowers agreed that "colonization" on earth was responsible for enormous human suffering and many armed conflicts that had raged in recent centuries, determined not to repeat this mistake of the old European colonial powers when it was about deciding the legal status of the moon, at least the of a "land grab" in outer space, which led to another world war, should be avoided. This made the Moon a "global commons" legally accessible to all countries – two years before the first actual manned moon landing.

The US flag was not a manifestation of sovereignty, but the tribute paid to American taxpayers and engineers who made it possible for Armstrong, Aldrin, and the third astronaut's mission, Michael Collins. The two men wore a commemorative plaque saying that they were "at peace for all of humanity," and of course Neil's famous words expressed the same sentiment that his "small step for man" was not a "giant leap" for the United States, but "for humanity." In addition, the US and NASA have lived up to their commitment by sharing the lunar rocks and other soil samples from the lunar surface with the rest of the world, either by distributing them to foreign governments or by discouraging scientists from all others around the world to make them accessible for scientific analysis and discussion. In the midst of the Cold War even scientists from the Soviet Union were present.

Case closed, no need for room attorneys? I do not need the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Space Law students to prepare for further discussions and disputes about the Moon Law, right?

No space lawyers needed?

Not so fast. While the legal status of the Moon as a "global commons" accessible to all countries in peaceful missions was not a substantial resistance or a significant challenge, the Space Treaty left further details unclarified. Contrary to the then very optimistic assumptions, humanity has not returned to the moon since 1972, which makes the basic rights of the lunar landscapes largely theoretical.

That is, until a few years ago, several new plans were worked out to go back to the moon. In addition, at least two US companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, which have serious financial support, have started using asteroids to extract their natural resources. Geek Note: Under the aforementioned space contract, the moon and other celestial bodies such as asteroids legally belong in the same basket. None of them can become the "territory" of one or more sovereign states.

The fundamental prohibition of the space contract to acquire new territory through the affixing of a flag or otherwise failed due to the commercial exploitation of natural resources on the Moon and other celestial bodies. This is a great debate that is currently raging in the international community without a clearly accepted solution in sight. Roughly speaking, there are two general interpretations:

So you want to mine an asteroid

Countries like the United States and Luxembourg (as the gateway to the European Union) agree that the moon and asteroids are "global commons." that each country allows its private entrepreneurs, as long as they are properly licensed and, in accordance with other relevant rules of space law, to go there and extract what they can to make money from it High seas, which are not under the control of a single country, but are completely open to properly licensed law-abiding fisheries by citizens and businesses in a country. Once the fish is in its nets, it is legal to sell.

On the other hand, countries like Russia and something less explicitly Brazil and Belgium, that the moon and the asteroids of humanity as Whole belong. And that is why the potential benefits of commercial exploitation for all of humankind should be created – or at least subjected to a presumably stringent international regime – to guarantee the benefit to all humankind. It's a bit like the regime originally created for harvesting natural resources from the deep ocean floor. It has created an international licensing regime, as well as an international company that should reduce those resources and generally share the benefits between all countries.

In my opinion the former position would certainly make more sense, both legally and practically the litigation is far from over. Meanwhile, the interest in the moon has also renewed – at least China, India and Japan have serious plans to return there and to increase the stakes even further. Therefore, we will have to teach our students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln about these topics for many years. While ultimately the international community must decide whether to reach a common agreement on either or both of these positions, it is crucial that agreement can be reached in one way or another. Such activities, which are developed without generally applicable and accepted law, would be a worst-case scenario. Although it is no longer colonization, it can have the same harmful consequences.

Frans von der Dunk is Professor of Space Law at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original article.

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