Can You Own Outer Space?


By: Austin (Google)

based on a video by Michael Stevens of VSauce.

Thirteen years ago, a man by the name of Gregory W. Nemitz registered some land containing about 492 quadrillion dollars worth of platinum. The land was on an asteroid named 433 Eros. Not a single nation on earth recognizes civilian claims to “extra-terrestrial real estate,” but he did it anyway. About a year later, NASA landed a probe on the asteroid claiming it was the first asteroid we had ever landed a probe on. However, Nemitz called it “parking space #29” and sent NASA a $20 parking ticket. Since then, NASA and the US Attorney General have dismissed the claim saying that Nemitz claim of the asteroid was without legal merit.

But Why?

There are plenty of organizations that will take your hard-earned money in exchange for land on the moon, venus, or even mars. And if you had enough money, nothing is legally stopping you from moving to the moon, building a house with a significant other, having some children, and turning your house–into your moon home. It wouldn’t be considered trespassing, squatting, or stealing. The moon treaty of 1979 says that no one can own any part of outer space–ever. But only 11 countries (states) have signed it. However, 129 nations have signed and/or ratified the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, in which Article II says that outer space is not subject to national appropriation. It says absolutely nothing about a person or company owning part of outer space. But without the recognition and support from just one sovereign nation…

What does ownership really mean?

We can claim to own anything we want. I could claim to own MacDonald Lake in Amarillo, TX, but going there or even moving there, wouldn’t entitle me to the rights that usually would go along with ownership. Unless–someone with a bunch of power (such as the United States) agreed that I owned it, and could enforce that ownership and keep others from also claiming that they own it. In the past, settlers have had disputes over ownership of land, even if people were already living on it, because they had power on their side. Mainly plenty of Guns, Germs, and Steel. (A book by Jared Diamond.) To paraphrase the famous con artist, “Canada” Bill Jones, “You know what beats four aces? A gun.” Or as @lawblob pointed out via twitter: “McDonald’s actually does serve breakfast after 10:30 if you have a gun.”

If you claimed to have ownership of some land on the moon and moved in, would you also have to hire some sort of “Lunar Police” and “Cislunar Military” to defend your land to keep others from challenging your claim? Pretty much. 

And that’s the problem.

Currently, it’s pretty risky for people or corporations to claim and use extra-terrestrial territory because the Outer Space Treaty says that outer space is the “common heritage of mankind.” Meaning–it belongs to all of us, and only to all of us. Many interpretations of the Outer Space Treaty predict that powerful things (such as nations)  could reluctantly to come to your defense should someone else want to move in, cause trouble, or dispute your extra-terrestrial claim. Maybe you would be able to get a sovereign nation to weigh in on your behalf by declaring Universal Jurisdiction, but that would have relate to a particularly heinous crime. A crime that would have to harm or threaten all of humanity, not just–you. Catherine Doldirina from the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University suggests that considering outer space as the “common heritage of mankind,” has slowed space exploration. The Outer Space Treaty was based on the Antarctic Treaty which says that the continent may never become the scene of international discord. Although discord is not a good thing, without an incentive to profit from it, not much has happened there. However, in the Arctic, a resource boom is now underway.

If people felt safer taking advantage of space–of celestial bodies, if technological development was more incentivized…

Would we already have lunar hotels and celestial amusement parks

Maybe.

But here is what you can currently own in outer space:

1. Stuff you put there.

2. To a certain extent, orbits.

(1)The Outer Space treaty says: the stuff we left on the moon, or anything put into space, remains as property of the original owner forever. (2) Orbits around earth are temporarily granted by the International Telecommunication Union (a UN agency). But they don’t work like real estate on earth. When a group of equatorial nations tried to claim orbits above their land boundaries, without planning on putting satellites there, their claim was largely ignored. So not only do you need to ask the UN for an orbit to get permission, you must also use it, and fill it.

It can be a little disappointing not knowing exactly how lunar real estate works, or if it ever will. But it is exciting to think that at some point during our lives, we could end up being part of the solution–a unique generation–not being the first to visit space, but the first to homestead space for the first time.

Here’s a quandary:

Michael Stevens of VSauce asked the question:

If an alien landed in your backyard for the first time, and you shot it with a gun, dressed it, and cooked up some alien-meat fajitas, would that be hunting, or murder?

His answer?

We literally don’t know. On earth we have human rights, but there are no alien rights. Maybe it would fall under the category of cultural vandalism, an act that’s not necessarily illegal, but is a giant bummer to the rest of humanity. This has happened before, not with aliens, but with paintings.

In 2003, the Chapman brothers purchased one of the last surviving sets of Goya’s “Disasters of War.” Instead of displaying these artworks, they decided to deface them by adding clown and puppy heads on the people, thus titling the modified work, “Insult to Injury.” And in a resulting protest, a man threw red paint on one of the brothers when he appeared at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, but at the end of the day, what the Chapman brothers did wasn’t illegal.

Vandalizing the moon or killing an alien aren’t illegal, but they sure aren’t peaceful acts either. But just like defacing historical paintings, the sort of seem wrong on some deeper level. In most museums you can’t even touch the paintings. So…

Who was the first person to touch the moon with their bare hands?

The first people to walk on the moon were obviously wearing space suits, thus providing a layer of material between them and the moon. You actually already have the moon in your hands. Well, little moons to be more exact. The crescent-shaped area at the base of your thumb nail is called the Lanula. Back to physically touching the moon. At the quantum level, touch is even more problematic. Since, at the atomic level, matter never actually never comes in contact with other matter (in the conventional thought), so you can’t truly touch the moon. With all this in mind, according to NASA, Terry Slezak was the first person to touch the moon with his bare hands. He was a technician who accidentally smeared lunar dust all over his hands when he was removing film from the astronauts cameras. However, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin came in from the first walk from the moon and removed their helmets, they must have come in contact with lunar dust as well that came in on their suits. They even said that it smelled like gunpowder (most likely because it oxidized on contact with air in the cabin). Anyway, the point is, the first breath of lunar air that the astronauts took in after the first walk, was mankind’s first physical contact with the moon.

Or were they?

Everyday we walk around coming into contact with material that was just recently in outer space. Hundreds of metric tons of extra terrestrial meteorites fall to the earth every year. So much so, that you can catch some yourself just by leaving out a piece of paper for a couple of days. 1 in 1000 of these meteorites that fall to the earth come from the moon. Most are pulverized upon entry into the atmosphere into tiny particles of some of the dust we breathe in daily. Due to this vast number of particles that land on the earth from the moon every year, the first person to actually come in contact with the moon was the first homosapien to walk on dirt.

We are still studying exactly how much cosmic dust is present in the air, but it’s safe to say that once in a while, you probably inhale some material that not too long ago was in outer space…thousands of years ago that some of it was probably on the moon—was the moon. Large enough pieces have even gotten trapped in the mucus that protects our lungs, meaning that when you pick your nose (while gross) a booger could literally be out of this world. Thank you for reading this,

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Austin Duncan, Author

Sources are present in the links found throughout this article. The concept of this entire post and its content is highly borrowed from Michael Stevens from VSauce. Look him and his channel up, it’s really interesting.

//

Sources:

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Final-frontier-for-lawyers-property-rights-in-2564610.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/433_Eros

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraterrestrial_real_estate

http://www.erosproject.com/legal.html?source=ErosProject

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_Treaty

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outer_Space_Treaty

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: Norton, 1999. Print.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_heritage_of_mankind

http://eandt.theiet.org/magazine/2010/11/who-owns-outer-space.cfm

http://www.antarctica.ac.uk//about_antarctica/geopolitical/treaty/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_man-made_objects_on_the_Moon

http://root.ps/download/ASM/dec_bogota.pdf

http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2003/mar/31/artsfeatures.turnerprize2003

http://artobserved.com/2013/06/new-york-jake-and-dinos-chapman-insult-to-injury-at-yoshii-gallery-through-june-29th-2013/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunula_(anatomy)

http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/jscfeatures/articles/000000848.html

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2199&dat=19690726&id=6CZUAAAAIBAJ&sjid=GjoNAAAAIBAJ&pg=5522,2841430

http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/home/30jan_smellofmoondust.html

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3 thoughts on “Can You Own Outer Space?

  1. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thanks, However I am having difficulties with your RSS. I don’t understand the reason why I can’t join it. Is there anyone else getting identical RSS issues? Anybody who knows the answer can you kindly respond? Thanx!!

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