Taking note of the unexpected abundance of water on the Moon, some Americans have begun contemplating the idea of leaving planet Earth and moving to the Moon. Setting aside the economic and technological questions of whether that’s even possible, Maya Cohen asks if colonization would be legal.
The main treaty governing the space is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The relevant provision of the treaty is Article II, which states, “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” It has been impossible in the past half century, she writes in Above the Law, to generate an international consensus to create new laws on the commercialization and private property in space and on the Moon.
What, asks Cohen, does “national appropriation” in the context of the Moon even mean?
Does national appropriation apply to individuals and companies occupying parts of the moon or only to a nation claiming territory in space? Does appropriation by a company or an individual moving to the moon constitute national appropriation? Based on commercial space industry practice, the answer is simply, no. Private companies have been arguably claiming territory in space for commercial purposes for decades through satellites, without any objection from the international community.
We may not know the answers to those questions, she suggests, until someone actually tries to live and build on the Moon.
Bacon’s bottom line: I subscribe to the ancient legal concept of squatter’s rights. If you settle it, you own it — unless someone can take it away from you. If you’re on the Moon and the person who wants to dispossess you of your property is on Earth, I wish them luck in trying to take it away.