Extraterrestrial real estate

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The Moon as seen by an observer from Earth. It is claimed as private property by several individuals.[1][2]

Extraterrestrial real estate refers to claims of land ownership on other planets, natural satellites, or parts of space by certain organizations or individuals. Previous claims are not recognized by any authority, and have no legal standing. Nevertheless, some private individuals and organizations have claimed ownership of celestial bodies, such as the Moon, and are actively involved in "selling" parts of them through certificates of ownership termed "Lunar deeds", "Martian deeds" or similar.  While personal claims have little weight, whole countries could potentially lay claim to colonizing certain bodies. Extraterrestrial Real Estate not only deals with the legal standpoints of potential colonization, but how it could be feasible for long-term real estate. There are multiple factors to consider in using another planet for real estate including how to create a real estate market, transportation, planetary protection, astrobiology, sustainability, and the orbital real estate of the planet, as well.


The topic of real estate on celestial objects has been present since the 1890s. Dean Lindsay made claims for all extraterrestrial objects on June 15, 1936. The public sent offers to buy objects from him as well.[3]

Law and governance[edit]

The United Nations sponsored 1967 Outer Space Treaty established all of outer space as an international commons by describing it as the "province of all mankind" and forbidding all the nations from claiming territorial sovereignty.[4] Article VI vests the responsibility for activities in space to States Parties, regardless of whether they are carried out by governments or non-governmental entities. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 had been ratified by 102 countries by 2013,[5] including all the major space-faring nations. It has also been signed but not yet ratified by 26 other nations.[6]

The Outer Space Treaty established the basic ramifications for space activity in Article 1: "The exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind."

It continues in Article 2 by stating: "Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."[7]

The development of international space law has revolved much around outer space being defined as the "province of all mankind". The Magna Carta of Space presented by William A. Hyman in 1966 framed outer space explicitly not as terra nullius but as res communis, which subsequently influenced the work of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.[8][9]

A subsequent treaty document, the international Moon Treaty—finalised in 1979 (just five countries had ratified it by 1984, but five countries was sufficient for it to be considered officially in force)—went further and forbade private ownership of extraterrestrial real estate.[10] This agreement has not been widely ratified,[5][11] with only 18 countries having ratified it by 2018.[12]

Several individuals and private organizations claimed ownership of the moon and other extraterrestrial bodies, but no such claims have yet been recognized. A white paper by the Competitive Enterprise Institute suggested legislation whereby the US would recognize claims made by private entities, American and others, which meet certain conditions regarding habitation and transportation.[13]

Private purchase schemes[edit]

A number of individuals and organizations offer schemes or plans claiming to allow people to purchase portions of the Moon or other celestial bodies. Though the details of some of the schemes' legal arguments vary, one goes so far as to state that although the Outer Space Treaty, which entered force in 1967, forbids countries from claiming celestial bodies, there is no such provision forbidding private individuals from doing so. However, Article VI of this treaty states "The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty." Thus, while it does not explicitly prohibit such schemes, the treaty does require they be authorized by the schemers' government.

The short story The Man Who Sold the Moon by Robert A. Heinlein, which was written in 1949, offers a portrayal regarding such plans or schemes, and created the concept of a Lunar Republic. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land also makes reference to a space law case called the Larkin Decision.

Geostationary orbits[edit]

A space ownership issue of current practical importance is the allocation of slots for satellites in geostationary orbit. This is managed by the International Telecommunication Union. The 1976 Declaration of the First Meeting of Equatorial Countries, also known as the Bogota Declaration, signed by several countries located on the Earth's equator, attempted to assert sovereignty over those portions of the geostationary orbit that continuously lie over the signatory nation's territory.[14] These claims did not receive wider international support or recognition and were subsequently largely abandoned.

Orbital real estate[edit]

A spot of space debris illuminates in the night sky

A prominent environmental impact on extraterrestrial planets is space debris. Human-made objects left in space pollute the specific planet and take up prime real estate, causing a big problem.  If orbital debris continues to build up, parts of space near the earth will become so polluted that certain operations will not be attainable.[15] To remove the damage already done by human-made objects, astronauts will need to bring specific hardware into space to exterminate the debris. Once cleared, the surrounding space around a planet can then be used for more real estate opportunities. There are specific orbits, however, that have caused ownership debate.

Notable claims[edit]

Chilean lawyer Jenaro Gajardo Vera became famous for his 1953 claim of ownership of the Moon.[3]

Martin Juergens from Germany claims that the Moon has belonged to his family since July 15, 1756, when the Prussian king Frederick the Great presented it to his ancestor Aul Juergens as a symbolic gesture of gratitude for services rendered, and decreed that it should pass to the youngest born son.[16]

A. Dean Lindsay made claims for all extraterrestrial objects on June 15, 1936, and sent a letter to Pittsburgh Notary Public along with a deed and money for establishment of the property. The public sent offers to buy objects from him as well.[3] He had previously made claims on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.[17]

James T. Mangan (1896–1970) was a famous eccentric, public relations man and best-selling author on self-help topics who publicly claimed ownership of outer space in 1948. Mangan founded what he called the Nation of Celestial Space and registered it with the Recorder of Deeds and Titles of Cook County, Illinois, on January 1, 1949.[18]

Robert R. Coles, former chairman of New York's Hayden Planetarium, started "the interplanetary Development Corporation"[19] and sold lots on the moon for one dollar per acre ($2.50/ha).[20]

Dennis Hope, an American entrepreneur, sells extraterrestrial real estate.[21] In 1980, he started his own business, the Lunar Embassy Commission.[22] As of 2009 Hope claimed to have sold 2.5M 1-acre (0.40 ha; 4,000 m2) plots on the Moon, for around US$20 per acre ($50/ha). He allocates land to be sold by closing his eyes and randomly pointing to a map of the Moon. He claims two former US presidents as customers, stating Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan had aides purchase the plots on the moon.[23][24]

In 1997, Adam Ismail, Mustafa Khalil and Abdullah al-Umari, three men from Yemen, sued NASA for invading Mars. They claim that they "inherited the planet from our ancestors 3,000 years ago", before the Islamic prophet Muhammad.[25] They based their argument on mythologies of the Himyaritic and Sabaean civilizations that existed several thousand years B.C.[26]

Gregory W. Nemitz claimed ownership of Asteroid 433 Eros, on which NEAR Shoemaker landed in 2001. His company, called "Orbital Development",[27] issued NASA an invoice of $20 for parking the spacecraft at the asteroid. NASA declined to pay, citing the lack of legal standing.[28]

Richard Garriott, computer game designer and astronaut's son, legitimately purchased the Lunokhod 2 lunar lander from the Russian Space Agency. Since then he jokingly claimed the rest of the Moon in the name of his gaming character, Lord British.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Who owns the moon? It's 'complicated,' say experts". CNN. 2008.
  2. ^ "This Man Claims He Owns the Moon". Newser. 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Virgiliu G Pop (2009). Who Owns the Moon?: Extraterrestrial Aspects of Land and Mineral Resources Ownershipwork. Springer Publishing. pp. 2–3. ISBN 978-1402091346.
  4. ^ "United Nations Treaties And Principles On Outer Space" (PDF). United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. 2002. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  5. ^ a b "Status of International Agreements relating to Activities in Outer Space". United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. 2013-01-01. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  6. ^ "Status of international agreements relating to activities in outer space as at 1 January 2005" (PDF). United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. February 2005. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  7. ^ "Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved 18 November 2020.
  8. ^ Haris Durrani (19 July 2019). "Is Spaceflight Colonialism?". Retrieved 2 October 2020.
  9. ^ Alexander Lock (6 June 2015). "Space: The Final Frontier". The British Library – Medieval manuscripts blog. Retrieved 18 November 2020.
  10. ^ "Moon Treaty". NASA Ames Research Center. 2001-08-31. Archived from the original on 2013-06-06. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  11. ^ "Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies". United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  12. ^ "Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies". United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  13. ^ Foust, Jeff (9 April 2012). "Staking a claim on the Moon". The Space Review. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  14. ^ "Text of Declaration of the First Meeting of Equatorial Countries". Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. 2007-01-23. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  15. ^ Klinkrad, H. (2006), "The Current Space Debris Environment and its Sources", Space Debris, Springer Praxis Books, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 5–58, doi:10.1007/3-540-37674-7_2, ISBN 978-3-540-25448-5
  16. ^ Tull, D. (1996). "The Moon Is Mine". Parascope. Archived from the original on March 13, 2016. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  17. ^ Pop, Virgiliu (2006). Unreal Estate - The Men who Sold the Moon. Exposure Publishing. p. 17. ISBN 1846850959.
  18. ^ "Chicago Man Stakes Claim to Outer Space (May 1949)". Science Illustrated. blog.modernmechanix.com. 2008-07-10. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  19. ^ "Robert R. Coles Pointing to Moon Map". Corbis. 1955-11-17. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  20. ^ W N White Jr., 1985, 'Real Property Rights in Outer Space', Unpublished academic version. Footnote 79 at p.41, quoting a Newsweek report of December the 5th, 1955, p. 31. The quotation of the primary source is inexact.
  21. ^ Jaggard, Victoria (2009-07-17). "Who Owns the Moon? The Galactic Government vs. The UN". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  22. ^ "Lunar Embassy - World Headquarters". 2006-07-17. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  23. ^ "Meet the Man Who Owns the Moon". USNews. 25 March 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  24. ^ "DENNIS M. HOPE HAS OWNED THE MOON SINCE 1980 BECAUSE HE SAYS SO". VICE. 11 April 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  25. ^ "3 Yemenis sue NASA for trespassing on Mars". CNN. 1997-07-24. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  26. ^ "Yemenis claim Mars". BBC News. 1998-03-22. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  27. ^ "Orbital Development". August 2007. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  28. ^ "The Eros Project: Legal Actions". 2004-03-08. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
  29. ^ Yans, Cindy (2001-04-13). "Lord British, we hardly knew ye". Retrieved 2013-06-04.

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