Who owns the Moon?

Friday, 10 January 2014

A planetary scientist has said there is a case for developing a United Nations treaty about the moon, which currently states it cannot be owned.

No one legally owns the moon but there is a case for developing the law as space exploration continues, a planetary science professor says.

Under current UN law, member states are “prohibited from appropriating the moon.”

But Ian Crawford, professor of planetary science at Birkbeck College, said there was now a case for developing the treaty to include private companies that may want to exploit it for its minerals.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he thought space tourism was more likely to take place before the moon started to be mined for minerals. He said there was far more scientific study to be done before it could be determined if there are any economically valuable materials on the moon.

“Nobody owns the moon,” he said.

“The legal status of the moon is currently defined by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty of the United Nations.”

But he added: “There’s a strong case for developing international law in this area because in 1967 it was not envisaged that anyone other than nation states would be able to explore the moon. Clearly that is changing now and there is a case for developing the outer space treaty to include private organisations that may wish to explout the moon.”

He said there was also a case for developing the treaty in light of private companies who may in the future want to mine the moon for its minerals, but that it was unnecessary to worry about this at the moment as scientific exploration was still ongoing.

He added: “It is premature to talk about exploiting the moon.

“The moon may well have resources that are economically valuable but we are still in an era of scientific exploration and once we have explored the moon in more detail then we will know whether or not.

“If we are going to explore the moon that does necessitate interfering with the lunar environment, but the initial stages will be much less invasive than strip mining the moon for its natural resources.

“The key thing for the next few decades is to explore the moon in more detail and then we will know if it has got resources that are economically valuable or not.”

Nicola Triscott, the director of Arts Catalyst, currently has an exhibition called ‘Republic of the Moon’, which aims to examine the idea of owning the moon. She said it was a concern that some nation states had not signed up to the treaty when it was first put in place.