Who owns the moon?

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Who owns the moon?

An interesting article came up today from Military Times:

Most likely, this is the best-known picture of a flag ever taken: Buzz Aldrin standing next to the first U.S. flag planted on the Moon.

For those who knew their world history, it also rang some alarm bells. Only less than a century ago, back on Earth, planting a national flag in another part of the world still amounted to claiming that territory for the fatherland.

Did the Stars and Stripes on the moon signify the establishment of an American colony?

When people hear for the first time that I am a lawyer practicing and teaching something called “space law,” the question they ask most frequently, often with a big smile or a twinkle in the eye, is: “So tell me, who owns the moon?”

I'll get back to the article in a minute, but it does have some fairly interesting National Security elements to it, outside the much lampooned comments of a former Congressional Candidate:

A transgender-issues activist and Democratic candidate for Congress says the advent of the space tourism industry could give private corporations a “frightening amount of power” to destroy the Earth with rocks because of the Moon’s military importance.

Brianna Wu, a prominent “social justice warrior” in the “Gamergate” controversy who now is running for the House seat in Massachusetts’ 8th District, suggested in a since-deleted tweet that companies could drop rocks from the Moon.

“The moon is probably the most tactically valuable military ground for earth,” the tweet said. “Rocks dropped from there have power of 100s of nuclear bombs.”

For the record, yes, theoretically possible, but....

Small space rocks can indeed do nuclear-weapons-scale damage if hitting the Earth at orbital speeds. But launching one from the moon, even setting aside issues of aiming, would still require escaping the satellite’s gravitational field, a task that requires the power and thrust contained in a huge rocket.

Nonetheless, militarization of our orbiting cousin has been looked at, for a long time:

In 1959, the United States Army proposed Project Horizon, which was designed to set up a permanent American military presence on the moon. The media have focused heavily on a 1958 plan to detonate a nuclear weapon on the moon in order to study the effect it would have and to send a clear and unambiguous signal to the Soviet Union at a time when the USSR presented an existential threat to American and western civilization. This idea, “Project A119,” was shelved primarily due to the safety concerns, the problem of damage to the moon’s surface, and the perception it would create worldwide. 

However, Project Horizon is a different matter altogether. The proposal called for a complement of 10 to 20 personnel that would serve as the foundation for a larger, more permanent presence. The initial landings were scheduled for 1965, and an initial outpost was hoped to be up and running by 1966. It would not only have facilitated the exploration of the moon, but space travel. It would have created countless scientific opportunities for expansion of technology, communications and surveillance. 

And then another guy jumped into the fray from a commercial standpoint:

Calling it the biggest loophole in the world doesn't quite capture its reach: Dennis Hope claims that he owns the moon—and our solar system's planets—due to what the Outer Space Treaty doesn't say. Mashable reports the treaty has been the guiding document on space law since 1967, and while it bars any country on Earth from laying claim to a heavenly body, it makes no mention of private companies or individuals doing just that. So Hope formed Lunar Embassy Corp, snatched up the property rights to the moon and more, and has been selling off one-acre lots since.

Regarding the treaty:

The treaty prohibits countries from claiming property in space, but "I filed my claim of ownership as an individual."

The fact that he's now claiming his Galactic Government has legal authority over the moon might seem problematic. But Hope said that the fledgling regime isn't a member of the UN and so doesn't have to abide by its laws.

Regardless of his current stance, Hope's original claim to the moon is simply not legal, the space-law institute's Masson-Zwaan asserts.

The UN treaty does apply to governments and their private citizens, which invalidates Hope's claim to the moon and other celestial bodies, she said.

But that shouldn't disappoint any prospective moon millionaires.

You don't need to own a place to make money on it, Masson-Zwaan said. But you do need a clear legal framework for doing business on the property—something the moon currently lacks.

But, back to current times, and national security implications, it is something being looked at:

In the weeks since he became acting secretary of the Air Force, Matthew Donovan has used his bully pulpit to advocate for the establishment of a separate space service. With Congress just weeks away from taking decisive action on the issue, Donovan said he will continue to press the case on Capitol Hill.

“Let’s unleash the space professionals so they can grow and become the equivalent of the Air Force after separating from the Army,” Donovan said July 3 in an interview with SpaceNews.

Space forces today are at that point where the Air Force was in 1947 when it broke away from the Army, Donovan said. Just like military aviation back then, space is ready to carve out its own lane. “When the Air Force separated from the Army, we became a global power because we were unleashed from other ways of thinking,” said Donovan. “Space is in that same place now.”

But back to the original article, the ramifications of the question could be important for rare metals and mining:

Countries such as the United States and Luxembourg (as the gateway to the European Union) agree that the moon and asteroids are “global commons,” which means that each country allows its private entrepreneurs, as long as duly licensed and in compliance with other relevant rules of space law, to go out there and extract what they can, to try and make money with it.

It’s a bit like the law of the high seas, which are not under the control of an individual country, but completely open to duly licensed law-abiding fishing operations from any country’s citizens and companies.

Then, once the fish is in their nets, it is legally theirs to sell.

Anyway, I found the article quite interesting, and the author is the "Harvey & Susan Perlman Alumni and Othmer Profesor of Space Law at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln" so he at least knows the subject.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.