Staking a claim to the moon
In 1967, eight years after Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon, came another giant leap for mankind. The US, UK and USSR signed the UN Outer Space Treaty, setting down laws on how nations could use and explore new worlds in space.
The law states that no government can own extra-terrestrial property or use celestial bodies for anything other than peaceful purposes, and that space materials are man’s shared heritage. Thus far 109 countries have ratified this treaty, including India.
But in 1980, an enterprising American, Dennis Hope, announced that he’d found a loophole. The treaty does not prohibit ownership by individuals and corporations, he claimed. So he claimed it for himself and set up a real-estate agency, Lunar Embassy, and began to sell bits of it to others. He claims to have sold 611 million acres so far, for an estimated $29.95 (about Rs 2,000) per acre.
Others have followed suit. Lunar Land calls itself “Earth’s oldest, most recognised celestial real estate agency” and packages come complete with ‘deed’ and ‘map’. In the UK, Francis Williams, owner of MoonEstates, calls himself the Lunar Ambassador to the United Kingdom and claims to have sold more than 3 lakh acres of moon land since 2000. Another firm, The Lunar Registry, has this catchy slogan: Nothing Could Be Greater Than To Own Your Own Crater!
The UN isn’t worried. Its treaty applies to countries as well as citizens. And there’s no governing body to enforce property rights. So if man ever does colonise the moon, the bits of paper issued by Hope and others will be worthless — a souvenir, at best, of a time when truly anything was possible.
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