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FAQ #37: 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?

No! Waiting is not a good idea, for several reasons:

First off, any human settlement of the Moon would be be better for humanity than no settlement.

But, if your think about it carefully, you'll realize that the sooner we start this race, the better for us.

National prestige once required the US to have the world's tallest building. But, eventually the public stopped measuring national prestige the old way. Government space programs, like the world's tallest buildings, have become prestige items for second and third rate powers. The Apollo program turns out to have been a one-shot event, specific to its era, not the template for space development. Ever since, space supporters have been trying - and failing - over and over again, to convince US taxpayers they need a robust national government space program for spin-offs, incentives for engineering education, jobs, NEO warnings, etc. etc. etc.

Instead, the voters chose more tax cuts!

So the only way America is going back to the Moon is through the efforts of for-profit private enterprise.

For the Chinese and Indian governments this is still a national prestige issue, not a way to make money. China has made it clear that, when it can put a base on the Moon, it will. Some even predict that, when it does, China will withdraw from the Outer Space Treaty and claim national sovereignty over the whole Moon!

The Institute's proposed Lunar Land Claims Recognition law won't make the tiniest bit of difference to that. The only difference this law would make is whether Western private enterprise, which does care about making money, is competing in the race to the Moon or sitting back and leaving the field to the Chinese government.

So, if the Lunar Land Claims Recognition law isn't passed relatively soon, the Chinese probably will get there first. Once they have a base and a monopoly on Lunar transport, they'll claim whatever they please - up to and including the whole Moon - and they may, or may not, let us visit.

In that case, having this law on our books might possibly save us from being completely shut out from prime resources and locations on the Moon by getting the Chinese to play by its rules. Those include: no more than one claim of 4% of the Moon, and being required to allow Americans on their ships and Lunar base.

The only way this law does them, or anyone else, any good is it LETS them sell some of their land to Americans. But that also means it GETS them to sell Lunar land to Americans, and let Americans go and move in.

Even if the Lunar settlement is Chinese, I suspect that visionary space entrepreneurs such as Robert Bigelow would still be very eager to be able to buy Lunar land, build a hotel and send tourists. Every US hotel chain wants to do just that in China itself.

On the other hand, commercial space settlement is SO big an investment that the commercial settlement efforts that would be influenced by this law, would almost certainly be multi-national consortia - like all really big projects these days. Investors, components, executives and settlers, etc. would come from many different countries, including the US, China, Japan, and Europe - not specifically from any one nation.

Finally, compare the current era to when Kennedy had the guts to commit us to the race to the Moon, even though we were then WAY behind the Russians. What if JFK had said, "We can't start the race to the Moon until we're guaranteed we'll win"? By having the courage to start the race then, even though we might have lost, he motivated America to excel, and when we came from behind to win, the victory was so much sweeter.

Today we're still well ahead of the Chinese and Indians. But without some big-profit incentive like this one to motivate American free enterprise, even that won't last.

The sooner we start this race, the better for America, and the sooner the settlement of space will occur.

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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