Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

The Great Lunar Land Grab

The Great Lunar Land Grab

The Great Lunar Land Grab: Private Property on the MoonImagine your own little piece of heaven. With space. And quiet. And a crater at your doorstep.

An international treaty says you can’t own property on the moon. A billionaire wants to change that. Let people vie for lunar property rights, he says, and entrepreneurs will colonize and commercialize the moon. Stick with the status quo, and China will take it all—the moon, its minerals, and the lucre to be gained from mining the place for all it's worth.

Private Property on the Moon?

The billionaire’s name is Robert Bigelow. He made his fortune in earth real estate. Now he’s sinking several hundred million dollars into a company that plans to build inflatable housing for moon-dwelling folk. Like you.

"The big danger here isn't a fear of private enterprise owning and maximizing profitable benefit from the moon," Bigelow told CNBC. "The big worry is America is asleep and does nothing, while China comes along, lands people on the Moon, and decides, ‘We might as well start surveying and laying claim, because who is going to stop us?'"

Star Wars: The Prequel

China intends to launch a lunar rover within two years and land astronauts on the moon by 2025. The U.S. has no plans of its own. China has aggressively pursued mineral rights in Africa and South America, so why not on the moon as well? "They aren't going there for footprints and flags," Bigelow says.

At the moment, they are—at least, that’s the official story. China signed a 1967 global agreement proclaiming “outer space,” which includes the moon, “the province of all mankind.” China also signed the Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits military activity on the moon.

Military activity is not the issue. Yet. Which is why Bigelow wants to get a jump on things—before China claims lunar squatter’s rights and, he imagines, forces the U.S. to choose between accepting China as moon master or making history and launching the first space war.

Bigelow’s solution: Convince the US government's Office of Commercial Space Transportation to set up a system of lunar property rights and announce that the moon is open for business. There: Problem solved. "When there isn't law and order," Bigelow says, "there's chaos.”

Ok, but what about that treaty?

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Bigelow isn’t alone in his advocacy for lunar property rights. He’s just the first person to back his rhetoric with several hundred million dollars of his own cash. These moonstruck entrepreneurs aren’t the least bit worried about any Outer Space Treaty, and for one simple reason.

That treaty’s got a moon-sized loophole in it.

The 1967 accord says that no nation can claim sovereignty over any celestial body in space (which includes the moon). But it doesn’t say anything about private property rights.

That detail was left for the Moon Treaty of 1979, which banned any nation from claiming a lunar grubstake, and banned private property ownership on the moon by anyone. Countries like Belgium and Ghana and Argentina eagerly ratified that Moon Treaty, but the big space-faring countries—Russia, China, and the U.S.—never bothered to sign the thing. So it doesn’t apply to them.

The Great Lunar Land Grab

Companies with names like Moon Express, Inc. are drawing investors and making plans for lunar mining operations. Bigelow’s eponymous Bigelow Aerospace is designing the structures to house those workers—and, perhaps, their families. Bigelow recently contracted with NASA to figure how private enterprise can help NASA get back to the moon, and even Mars, faster and cheaper.

Should Bigelow & Co. be stopped? Or cheered? Should the moon belong all? Or to those who can figure out what to do with it?

What’s your take? Cast your vote here.

Got a question we can help with?

Ask the recap >
  • Someday we’ll learn that profit isn’t the only motivating factor on earth or anyplace else. I don’t have a problem with private property on the moon any more than I do private property down here. But why don’t step on the brakes here for a bit, just take a deep breath, before we turn the solar system into a string of strip-mines and mini-malls.

  • Herk

    It’s not the wild west. What will they call it? Wild Whatever.


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