Private companies should be able to buy land on The Moon or other planets for tourism, mining or even to sell property, a space policy expert has said.
Rand Simberg said that if governments started to provide property rights then entrepreneurs and billionaires might pile in and invest – and added that the ‘time is ripe’.
He has proposed a law that would circumvent the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which states no individual or government can have sovereignty over any body in space.
But such a move would mark a huge change in how mankind sees space and could open up the galaxy to a debacle akin to the Colonial era ‘Scramble for Africa’.
One government going alone might also incur the wrath of other nations who all remain signed up to the Outer Space Treaty.
Mr Simberg, who is based in the US, says that the law is open to challenge and does not explicitly forbid anybody from owning chunks of planets, so needs clearing up anyway.
Wired.com reported that his plan is called the Space Settlement Prize Act and was unveiled earlier this month at US conservative think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Any new law would have to work around the 1979 Moon Treaty Act which stops any nation from claiming sovereignty over The Moon, though major countries like the US and Russia have not ratified it.
Mr Simberg’s states: ‘The ratification failure of the Moon Treaty means there is no legal prohibition in force against private ownership of land on the Moon, Mars, etc., as long as the ownership is not derived from a claim of national appropriation or sovereignty (which is prohibited by the Outer Space Treaty)’
Another hurdle that would have to be overcome would be how people get to the moon – Richard Bransons’ Virgin Galactic has yet to even make its first commercial flight into orbit, let alone another planet.
But Mr Simberg said: ‘There are people who believe that rocks have rights; I’m not one of them’.
US space law lawyer Michael Listner told Wired.com that ownership of The Moon and other planets was a ‘very touchy issue’.
‘To take that stand against the rest of the world, would take a lot of political will and the government would take a hit. It’s sort of a nonstarter,’ he said.
‘It’s similar to the way properties were pioneered in the Old West. The government opened up land and people went to settle it.’
The debate over ownership of space mirrors that on Earth – Britain recently provoked the ire of Argentina when it emerged that five UK companies are hunting for oil in the waters surrounding The Falkland Islands.
The Arctic is also emerging as a key battleground with Denmark, which owns Greenland, insisting it has the right to explore waters off its shores.