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FAQ #29: Could the UN just give every nation a portion of the Moon to own, thereby creating valuable Lunar property rights?

No, the United Nations absolutely cannot do that - and it wouldn't do any good if it could.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty   (OST) left one and only one doorway open to creating Lunar property rights:

Only private entities (people, companies, groups of companies) can claim Lunar land, and only by use and occupation. That is, only private people living on the land, "boots on the ground", can claim it.

Article II of the Outer Space Treaty makes it very clear that:

  • Nations can't claim sovereignty over Lunar land.

  • Nations can't give it to anyone.

  • The US can't claim sovereignty over Lunar land.

  • The US can't give it to anyone.

Further along in the treaty, Article XIII says that what applies to nations applies to "international intergovernmental organizations". Therefore:

  • Groups of nations can't claim Lunar land.

  • Groups of nations can't give it to anyone.

  • The UN, an international intergovernmental organization, can't claim Lunar land.

  • The UN can't give it to anyone.

  • Most especially, the UN couldn't give it to nations, which can't own it.

And, incidentally, to answer other suggestions:

  • Specially created intergovernmental space agencies can't claim Lunar land.

  • Specially created intergovernmental space agencies can't give it to anyone.

But this very question hides a fundamental misunderstanding of the economics involved.

Property rights are not valuable in and of themselves.

Property ownership of a place no human can ever get to would be worth only the novelty value of the piece of paper it is written on. If it were possible to grant Lunar property rights when there is no way to get there, the deeds would be worth a few dollars, at most.

Lunar (or Martian) land ownership will only acquire significant value when there are people on the land and a space "airline" with regular flights going back and forth.

Fortunately, the Outer Space Treaty established a legal framework structured so that the only way property rights can come to be is when those conditions have been met.

If a private company, from any nation, established a true settlement on the Moon, and the settlement then claimed a reasonable amount of Lunar property, every nation on Earth would have to decide for itself whether it would recognize that claim as valid. (Like every nation has to decide, today, which government in Libya to recognize.)

All we want the US to do is say, now, what a Lunar settlement would have to do to get US recognition - so that the settlement can sell its land to people back on Earth and pay for the settlement's establishment.

Hopefully most other nations would do so as well, but the economic strength of the US makes its decision the most important. Perhaps, if the US starts the ball rolling, the UN or some other intergovernmental body might suggest standards for when nations should recognize a private Lunar settlement's claim as valid.

Those who suggest the UN should give away Lunar property to every nation want to be sure that everyone on Earth could have a role in the development and benefits of space if they want to. But, under our proposal, everyone on Earth could participate - by investing in a Lunar settlement company, or buying land from a settlement, or buying a ticket to go to the Moon on the settlement's ships.

Strip of lunar land
image credit: NASA

Questions & Answers about Lunar Land Claims Recognition

Note: The first 25 FAQs below are reprinted from the Space Settlement Initiative website.

  1. What is the real purpose of enacting a Lunar land claims recognition law?

  2. Will promising property rights be enough to produce the necessary investment in developing affordable space transport?

  3. What does international law say about private property ownership in space?

  4. Can there be property ownership without national sovereignty?

  5. What if other nations refuse to recognize land claims in space?

  6. Why not allow smaller, limited land claims for easier steps than settlement?

  7. Could lunar land really be worth enough money to make a difference?

  8. What conditions should the US set for recognition of a claim?

  9. How much land should a settlement be able to claim... and why?

  10. Why must the Earth-Moon space line and settlement be open to all paying passengers regardless of nationality?

  11. Wouldn't it help if a major company announced that, if a land claims recognition law were passed, it would try to develop affordable space transport?

  12. Are the weaknesses and compromises in this plan likely to be permanent?

  13. Didn't the earliest version of this plan talk about Lunar "land grants"? Why aren't you using that phrase any more?

  14. Did land grants work in the past, on Earth?

  15. You can't farm Lunar land, and Earth doesn't need the Moon's minerals. So how could Lunar land be put to profitable use?

  16. If you can't give figures, now, proving the profitability of the end uses of Lunar land, how could anyone raise big money for Lunar land?

  17. Could other sources of revenue be enough without land claims recognition?

  18. What if the Lunar settlement does not produce enough operating revenue to pay off its debts and make a profit?

  19. Could this law produce a new "space race"?

  20. Why is U.S. legislation, in particular, so important?

  21. Could the U.S. withdraw from the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, claim national sovereignty on the Moon, then award property rights to whomever it pleased?

  22. What about defense? Does recognizing a land claim obligate the U.S. military to defend the Lunar settlement?

  23. What effect would this have on NASA and the aerospace companies?

  24. What do the experts say about this idea?

  25. Who came up with this idea?

More FAQs

The FAQs above cover basic questions about Lunar Land Claims Recognition. The following questions address more advanced issues.

  1. If we really went to the Moon in 1969, why aren't we there now?

  2. What were the assumptions before the Outer Space Treaty, (e.g. Robert Heinlein)?

  3. Should Lunar government be modeled after Antarctica?

  4. Could the UN just give every nation a portion of the Moon to own, thereby creating valuable Lunar property rights?

  5. Why don't space activists convince the public to support a government program to establish a base on the Moon and Mars?

  6. Will changing how NASA works bring the taxpayers back on board?

  7. What would Land Claims Recognition cost the US Government?

  8. What will this legislation do for general economic growth?

  9. Who would issue and record Lunar land deeds?

  10. Why are Lunar land sales necessary?

  11. Could this law force the US to recognize a foreign government's Lunar land claim?

  12. Shouldn't we wait to put such a law into effect until free societies are ready to settle the Moon, to keep it from encouraging the Chinese?

  13. Would Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty prohibit Lunar land claims recognition?


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Every revolutionary idea passes three stages:
  1. It's impossible.
  2. It's possible but not worth doing.
  3. I said it was a good idea all along.
- Arthur C. Clarke
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