Blast from the past: Endless possibilities on the Moon

49 years ago, on 20th July, Neil Armstrong became the 1st man to walk on the Moon. This article explores 5 new-age possibilities on the Moon, enabled by scientific advancement, and the need to be regulate them.

On July 20, 1969, exactly 49 years ago, Neil Armstrong, an American astronaut and aeronautical enagineer, created history by becoming the first man to set foot on the Moon. At precisely 1.45 am IST on that day, NASA’s space mission Apollo 11 recorded this historical event.   Almost five decades and 132 missions to the Moon later, the Moon still holds the awe and interest of the global community. This interest has transcended beyond scientific curiosity and government-funded missions. The Moon is now considered as the upcoming hotspot for real estate, tourism, mining, even the next base for human colonies since water has been discovered on the Moon. The closer and more accessible the Moon gets, the more acute the need for policing its exploitation.  To regulate activities relating to the Moon and the outer space, the Committee On the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, (COPUOS) was set up by the United Nations. The Committee has various agreements, two of which are the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies also called the ‘Outer Space Treaty’ and the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies also called the ‘Moon Treaty’, which came into existence in 1979.  The two treaties declare that the Moon (and the outer space) should be used for the benefit of all states i.e. the whole international community. This archaic treaties drafted 50 years ago try and fail to regulate the activities on the Moon. They are widely worded, hence, leave a lot of scope for interpretation, especially with the new-age concepts that are gaining popularity in space technology, such as –

  1. Colonization of the Moon – After the discovery of water on the lunar poles by India in its Chandrayaan-I mission on November 14, 2008, countries like US, Russia, China and some private companies have been eyeing on colonizing the moon. There are no laws that prohibit the colonization of the Moon, however, Article 9(1) of the Moon Treaty allows States Parties to establish manned and unmanned stations on the Moon and utilise only the area required for such stations on the surface of the Moon. Further, the location of such space station should be disclosed to United Nations. The size of the space station and the area that can be utilised on the surface of the Moon are undetermined, hence, allowing the possibility of colonising the Moon. With the idea of colonisation gaining more traction along with the technological advancements, it is the need of the hour to lay down specific laws that ensure that the Moon is exploited in a peaceful and sustainable manner. The laws should be specific and well-rounded to sustain a scientific society. It is important to keep in mind that many countries and private players are investing in this idea. One such attempt is a recently established NGO called Moon Village Association, which aims to bring together all interested parties with scientific, educational and commercial interests and lay down terms for self-regulation. 
  2. Moon tourism – Space tourism is any commercial activity offering customers direct or indirect experience with space travel. Till date, seven private citizens have taken a total of eight trips to the International Space Station (ISS),[1] paying an estimated $20-40 million each time. These private missions were brokered by the Virginia-based company Space Adventures and employs Russian Soyuz spacecraft and rockets. The newest player in the market is Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which announced that they will fly two private citizens to the Moon by 2018. With space tourists come hotels and the Aurora Station is the next exciting real estate set to open up in space. The luxury space hotel orbits 200 miles above the Earth’s surface and costs $9.5 million to stay.      Space tourism is most likely to be commercialised very shortly with elaborate plans drawn up by mostly private players. It is the need of the hour to regulate the selection process of travellers, their training, quality checks for the spacecraft and the ‘tour packages’ offered by these companies.    
  3. Moon mining – Many private players in space exploration are contending to mine Helium-3, gold, platinum, rare earth metals and water from the Moon. While Moon mining is not expressly prohibited, it is not expressly permitted either. Both the Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Treaty allow for sustainable exploitation of the Moon’s resources and does not expressly exclude private players from mining. According to the Outer Space Treaty, a private entity can mine on the Moon if they are allowed by their country. E.g. USA was the first nation to allow private entities to mine, own and sell resources mined on the Moon except biological components. 
  1. Lunar crimes – As the space missions get more frequent, both privatized and commercialized, the prospect of crime on the Moon is not very far off. Offences can be of  criminal nature like, sabotage of space station or murder, or contractual like failure of mission on the Moon or environmental like disposal of debris from the mission or polluting the surface of the Moon.

As per Article VIII of the Outer Space Treaty, the country which launches the space mission and the country to which the personnel belong to will retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space. A similar stance is taken in the Moon Treaty and the concept is very similar to maritime laws regarding high seas. Hence, if a crime is committed in space, as soon as the perpetrator of the crime is back on earth, he/she will be tried as per the laws applicable to the country which he/she belongs.  

  1. Real estate on the Moon – Extraterrestrial real estate refers to claims of land ownership on other planets or natural satellites or parts of space by certain organizations and individuals. In 1980, one Mr. Dennis Hope started selling lunar land certificates at around $24/acre; his clientele included Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Nicole Kidman and George H.W. Bush.[2]

Article 11 of the Moon Treaty states that the Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind and cannot be subject to national appropriation by any claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means. It makes it clear that neither the surface nor the subsurface of the Moon, nor any part thereof shall become the property of any country or person in particular. Hence, real estate or any form of proprietary is not allowed on the Moon.   Stepping up the legal game49 years ago, on this day, NASA’s Apollo 11 mission to the Moon took a gigantic step and opened up endless possibilities in space. Possibilities which are within the grasp of mankind, albeit with very few and ineffective regulations.  Especially after the failure of the Moon Treaty which did not have any major space-faring countries as signatories, there is a need for space laws relating to the Moon to catch up with technology and cover the new array of possibilities it opens up. There is also a need to move away from the idea that space exploration is only for government funded entities and embrace the privatisation that is gaining traction. The new law should also aim at becoming more effective with many signatories ratifying it so that we can finally have a strong legislation for the Moon.  DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. The same cannot be construed as legal advice.

[1] Adam Mann, So You Want to Be a Space Tourist? Here Are Your Options NBC News (2017), (last visited Jul 10, 2018).[2] Micheal Kelley, The Man Who ‘Owns’ The Moon Has Made Serious BankBusiness Insider India(2013), (last visited Jul 10, 2018).

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