Have you ever wondered that who owns the Moon, stars, and all the celestial bodies present in Space or ever thought of buying land on any of these? We might have heard famous personalities claiming that they own land on the Moon or other celestial bodies but what is the legal applicability of this claim?
This article deals with these questions in detail. It covers important International Space Law Treaties that are widely accepted by several nations of the world in matters of ownership, exploration, and use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies. It also talks about the practical aspect and applicability of these laws.
OUTER SPACE TREATY
On 27th of January, 1967, eight years after Neil Armstrong first stepped on the Moon, mankind witnessed another great milestone. The United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) signed the United Nations Outer Space Treaty of the exploration and usage of outer space resources.
The Outer Space Treaty, officially known as “The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploitation and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies”, was enforced on 10th of October, 1967. This treaty formed the basis for Space Law. As of February 2021, it has been signed by 111 countries, while another 23 have signed the treaty but have not completed the ratification).
A Brief about Outer Space Treaty
The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) oversees the Outer Space Treaty. It was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its Resolution 2222(XXI). The treaty is a large document, consisting of various articles and subsections. Some of the most important articles of the treaty are as follows:
Article 1 of the treaty says that the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all the countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind. All the States shall have free and equal access to all areas of celestial bodies without any discrimination.
Article 2 provides that Outer Space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by the claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means. It means that outer space does not belong to any one country but all mankind.
Article 3 and 4 state that activities, for the purpose of exploring and using outer space, shall be in accordance with international laws and keeping in view international peace. It prohibits the installation of nuclear weapons or any other kind of weapon of mass destruction, in orbit around the earth.
Loophole In The Treaty
The Outer Space Treaty declares that the Outer Space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is the property of all mankind and can be utilized for the benefit of all. But there is a major loophole in the treaty. It prohibits only national ownership but there is no consensus if these prohibitions are applicable on private appropriation or not.
However, Article 2 of the treaty concerns only the issue of national ownership, the treaty talks nothing about the rights of private individuals or bodies in regard to ownership of outer space. This loophole was detected by American enterprise, Dennis Hope, in 1980. He manipulated the loophole in his favor, set up a real-estate agency, named Lunar Embassy, and started to sell parts of outer space.
According to Article 6 of the treaty,” Parties to the treaty shall bear responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present treaty. The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State party to the treaty.”
The treaty states that any person, organization, or company operating in space is answerable to their respective government. So it can be inferred that the treaty is meant for all the entities, public as well as private. Therefore, the prohibition is applicable to governments, individuals, organizations, and companies of the nations who are parties to this treaty.
THE MOON TREATY
The members of the United Nations, on 18th of December, 1979, presented an agreement called the Moon Treaty or Moon Agreement, in order to be a follow-up of the Outer Space Treaty and cover its loopholes. It was officially named as “Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.” It was meant to set up a legal framework for the exploration and use of the Moon and other celestial bodies.
Similar to the Outer Space Treaty, the Moon Treaty stated that the Moon and other celestial bodies should be utilized for the benefit of all humanity and not for the sake of any single nation. It prohibited the testing of any kind of weapon and declared that any scientific research must be open and shared with the international community, and no nation and individual, or organization could claim anything from it.
The treaty has little practical value because it has not been widely ratified by states that are engaged in crewed space exploring or own domestic launch capability. By 2018, it was ratified by only 18 nations. It means that though the treaty prohibits national and private ownership of the moon and other celestial bodies, it is not effective as it was supposed to be.
This article outlines the international laws, treaties, and agreements that deal with the issue of ownership, exploration, and use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies. The most important among them was the Outer Space Treaty that forms the base for Space Law. All the treaties and agreements share a common perspective i.e. the outer space belongs to the whole of humankind and not a single nation. Also, the exploration and use should be in such a way that it maintains international peace and for the benefit of humankind. The law prevents the claim of any nation or individual on the land of the moon and other celestial bodies. However, there are some loopholes in the laws themselves.
Talking in practical terms, owing to the loopholes in laws, nothing can expressly prohibit individuals or companies from owning land on the moon and other celestial bodies. However, there is no way to claim that land because any document or certificate that shows your ownership of land in Outer Space is unenforceable, and no nation who is a party to the Outer Space Treaty or Moon Treaty would ever recognize it.
This article is written by Monika Godara, student of BA LLB (Hons.), 2nd year from University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh.