Can you buy land on the Moon? – Critical Study on Extraterrestrial Real Estate
January 20, 2022
Moon, even though covered with dead volcanoes, impact craters, and lava flows, has been the subject of children’s fairytales and love songs for years. With several songs and poems written on the moon’s beauty and enigmatic nature, it has been the content of promises made to our loved ones and other such stories. That is why, when we hear a Rajasthan’s common man gifting a plot of land on the moon to his wife on their wedding anniversary, even though we might doubt its veracity, it seems plausible. In recent years, we have heard celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan and Sushant Singh Rajput owning land on the moon. But is it possible to own land on the moon?
This question falls under the jurisdiction of Extraterrestrial Real Estate law and various treaties signed on this need to be examined to answer this.
Owning the Moon – A Timeline
Historically, there has been a string of persons laying their claims on the moon. The earliest of them has been perhaps the claim of the Jurgens, a German family. They contended that ownership of the moon belonged to them since 1756. It was in 1756 that the ruler of Prussia, King Frederick gifted the Earth’s natural satellite to this family as a token of gratitude and with a declaration that it would be passed on in the family to the coming generations.
Again in 1936, the ownership of all the celestial bodies along with the moon was claimed by a man named A. Dean Lindsay, who got it registered with the Irwin County courthouse in Ocilla, Georgia. In 1949, a man named James T. Mangan wrote to the secretaries of the state of seventy-four nations announcing the formation of Nation of Celestial Space, or Celestia, which would encompass all of space outside of Earth, hence establishing his ownership over this entire space.
The trend was continued by a Chilean lawyer and poet called Jenaro Gajardo Vera. He went on to get a title deed registered of the moon in his name. He also got his ownership published in the Chilean media through three announcements, fulfilling all the requirements of real estate ownership and registration as per Chilean law. Jenaro revealed that the buying of the moon was to serve dual purposes. First, it was to make a “poetic gesture” and secondly, to prove he owned property so that he could join a prestigious social club. As per the legend, it is said that President Nixon was forced to take Jenaro’s permission to land Apollo 11 and its astronauts on the land of the moon. It is alleged that after his death, Jenaro bequeathed the moon to the people of Chile.
A lunar estate company called Interplanetary Development Corporation was established by a person namedRobert Coles in 1955. This company sold a portion of the moon for merely a dollar. To justify his company, Coles claimed that he could sell land on the moon since no one had claimed it by now, which was false.
The claims of ownership are not limited to the moon only. In 2001, a person called Gregory Nemitz asked NASA to pay $20 as a parking fee for landing NEAR Shoemaker Spacecraft on the asteroid Eros, which he had filed in his name at the Archimedes Institute in 2000. Thus, through the years many people have claimed to own celestial space and objects including the moon, even though the authenticity of their claims is highly debatable.
The Curious Case of Ownership of Moon
One peculiar case of the moon’s ownership that stands out was that of Dennis Hope. Based on his claim, he was successful in setting up a profitable lunar business. Hope got the moon registered in his name with the San Francisco County office and established the Lunar Embassy. After setting up his business and getting it registered, he sent a declaration and $55,000 littering and storage bill to the US, USSR, and the United Nations.
Afterward, he started selling plots of land on the moon and since then he claims to have sold the property on the moon to approximately 3.7 million people from 181 countries, including movie stars, astronauts, and American Presidents. He sells the lunar property at merely $20. Moreover, he has started selling domain names, moons of other planets, and those located in outer space as well. As animus jocandi, which translates to “for fun only”, he issued sale deeds, 100 dollar bills, and passports to the moon. The legitimacy of these objects is not challenged as long as they are “animus jocandi” and do not challenge the established authorities. However, Hope claims that the deeds are completely authentic as every single one of them is stored on their database.
The veracity of these “lunar deeds” and “martian deeds” has been questioned for a long time. The international treaty that gives some hint of regulation of extraterrestrial real estate law is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. As of 2015, it has been signed by 104 countries. Better known as The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, it was initiated by the US, Soviet Union, and Britain. The main objective of the treaty was to ban the testing of nuclear weapons in space. The treaty also declared that all extraterrestrial scientific discoveries would belong to all of mankind. Hence, under the supervision of the United Nations, it was declared that the space was not subject to national appropriation. Thus, as per this treaty, no nation could claim ownership of any celestial body or space. However, the treaty does not explicitly rule out private ownership as claimed by people like Dennis Hope.
Nevertheless, Article VI of the treaty holds the governments liable for the actions of any party therein. Therefore, it eliminates the doubt that the treaty is silent on private appropriation as claims by private ownership would indirectly represent the nation and national claims have been already repudiated. So any private entity operating in the space is answerable to the national government, which in turn is bound by international law. But since no direct reference has been made to private ownership, many scholars in the field press for a more stringent and clear regulation to bring an absolute halt to the claims of Dennis Hope and other such people.
Additionally, Article XII of the same establishes that the moon’s land cannot be deemed as exclusive and hence does not fall into the category of real estate. Thus, any nation that established its base on the moon must allow other nations to visit. However, no such visit can disrupt the “normal functions” of the other nation’s base being visited. Another important international treaty in this matter that is worth mentioning is theAgreement Governing the Activities of States on the moon and Other Celestial Bodies, known as the “Moon Treaty” in short. Much similar to the Outer Space Treaty, it also established that the moon does not belong to any one nation and should be used to benefit the whole of mankind. It explicitly bans any form of public or private ownership of the moon. Despite all of this, the treaty remains toothless in reality as it has not been ratified by major countries involved in space and lunar exploration.
There has been a meteoric rise in the projects about the moon and space. Developing “international villages” on the moon has attracted a lot of companies involved in the business. Many countries have been a part of this race to construct bases on lunar soil. The ESA plans to build an “international village” on the moon between 2020 and 2030. The US space agency NASA, Russian space agency Roscosmos and the China National Space Agency are all planning on constructing their respective bases on the moon.Collaboration between TOYOTA and JAXA plans to build fuel-cell powered “lunar cruisers”. Many more such enterprises have come up. However, the point of concern is the fact that we lack a concrete law on the matter. The Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Treaty give us a good starting point but are not enough on their own. We have a legal “lunar” crisis looming over our heads.
Virgiliu Pop, a space lawyer appropriately states, “Intending to own and possess land is not enough. One should have such possession”. Claiming the possession of the moon and other extraterrestrial real estate or even calling it “real estate” is flawed. Moon and other celestial objects are storehouses of discovered and undiscovered resources that can fetch great dividends. The greed of humans has led them to claim the moon and space. As this greed increases, so does the crisis of laws governing this extraterrestrial land. Thus it is pertinent to emphasize the need of all the nations to collaborate for formulating an all-encompassing law clearing the air on this issue. Otherwise, people like Dennis Hope would continue making profit unregulated by playing with the loopholes.