Extraterrestrial real estate

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The Moon as seen by an observer from Earth. Some people claim that private ownership of the Moon might be possible.

Extraterrestrial real estate is land on other planets or natural satellites or parts of space that is sold either through organizations or by individuals. Ownership of extraterrestrial real estate is not recognised by any authority. Nevertheless, some private individuals and organisations 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. These "deeds" are viewed by many as having novelty value only.


[edit] History

The topic of real estate on celestial objects has been present since the 1890's. Coming in and out of public focus for several decades, major notability was established for the idea in 1936. 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.[1]

[edit] Legal issues

International Ownership Treaties
Antarctic Treaty System
Law of the Sea
Outer Space Treaty
Moon Treaty
International waters
Extraterrestrial real estate

The United Nations 1967 publication "Outer Space Treaty" states space is the "province of all mankind", and is not subject to claims on sovereignty by States.[2] As treaties apply to States and place obligations on States, and since the Space Treaties were drafted at a time when, realistically, the only "people" going into space were States, none of the space treaties make reference to private parties. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 has currently been ratified by 98 states, including all the major space-faring nations.[3]

The international Moon Treaty, finalised in 1979 and entering into force in 1984, forbids private ownership of extraterrestrial real estate.[4] However, as of January 1, 2008 only 13 states have ratified the agreement,[5] and none of these are major spacefaring nations.

[edit] Private purchase schemes

A number of individuals and organisations 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.

Many states and countries have corollaries to their real estate and property laws to prevent wanton claiming of new-found lands, that state that a simple claim to the territory is not enough; the claimant must also demonstrate "intent to occupy," something that, at this time, is obviously difficult to do with the Moon or any other celestial body.

Considering these facts, legally, the schemes' "deeds" have only symbolic or novelty value and no official governing body in the world has yet granted any legal validity to them.

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

[edit] Ownership of empty space

Ownership of empty space can be thought of as a different issue from that of land ownership on extraterrestrial bodies, because of its emptiness, the difficulty of defining its bounds, and the difficulty of keeping anything within it. The United Nations "Outer Space Treaty" reserves space for the good of mankind, and effectively prohibits private ownership of arbitrary parcels of empty space, although governments which have not signed the relevant treaties may dispute the U.N.'s authority in this matter.

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 Bogotá Declaration, signed by several countries located on the Earth's equator, attempted to assert sovereignty over those portions of the geosynchronous orbit that continuously lie over the signatory nation's territory.[6] These claims did not receive international support or recognition and were subsequently largely abandoned.

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