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

The first settlement on the Moon should be able to claim up to 600,000 square miles. Getting to Mars will cost much more, and Mars itself is larger than the Moon. Therefore the first Martian settlement should be able to claim up to 3,600,000 square miles, roughly the size of the United States. That would be worth $600 billion at $260 an acre, or $1.15 trillion at $500 an acre. Even at only $100 per acre it would be 230 billion dollars.

Some critics object that would allow a settlement to claim more land than it can use, but the amount of land that can be used depends on what you are using it for. Nineteenth century land grant farmers used 40 acres and a mule. Modern mechanized farms use vastly more land than that. Cattle ranchers use much more land than farmers. But none of those are the size criteria that should be used for a Lunar settlement because, of course, the settlement will not make its living by either farming or ranching.

The plan is to let settlements recoup the cost of getting there in the first place by selling land. If you are in the real estate business, especially if you are selling totally raw Lunar land, you can use all the acreage you can get title to. So the "right" size for a claim is that size which is just large enough to justify the cost of developing reliable space transport and establishing a settlement. Small enough to force the development of cost effective, affordable, transport, and small enough to still leave room for future settlements.

That's how the proposed settlement sizes were derived. Real estate experts guessed at the minimum the land would bring when you could buy a ticket and get to it. Space experts guessed at what was the least that financially efficient private companies could hope to establish settlements for. The average settlement cost estimates, divided by the estimated average dollars per acre, gave the number of acres needed. Converted to square miles, that worked out to approximately 600,000 square miles on the Moon and 3,600,000 square miles on Mars.

Fortunately, that is quite small enough to still leave plenty of room for subsequent settlements, since it is only around 4% of the Moon, 6.5% of Mars. Since it is much easier to follow than to lead, and we want to encourage leadership, no settlement after the first gets even that much. Each subsequent settlement gets 15% less land than the previous one. Finally, no entity can get recognition for more than one settlement on a body. Therefore there is no possibility of anyone monopolizing all the land.

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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