NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 3, 2009

While private property rights have gained widespread acceptance across the planet, the same can't yet be said for the rest of the solar system. 

In "Who Owns the Moon? -- Extraterrestrial Aspects of Land and Mineral Resources Ownership," Romanian space lawyer Virgiliu Pop provides an accessible introduction to space law and a rousing condemnation of the collectivist "Common Heritage of Mankind" paradigm behind the 1979 Moon Agreement. 


  • That treaty, rejected by the United States but slowly gaining ratifications (13 thus far), essentially bans private property in space and requires "equitable" sharing of space resources.
  • While the less-collectivist 1967 Outer Space Treaty bans territorial claims by nations as well as individuals, it would allow ownership of extracted resources and mining of the Moon and asteroids.
  • Pop argues that what's needed is the Frontier Paradigm, which proved its worth on our planet and will likely do so in extraterrestrial realms.

"Homesteading is likely to transform the lunar desert in the same manner as it transformed the 19th Century United States," Pop says.  "Space is indeed a new frontier calling for individualism rather than collectivism, and its challenges need to be addressed with a legal regime favorable to property rights."

Much remains to be discussed and perhaps decided upon by various nations, of course, as space law evolves over time.  But property rights are a useful engine, and securing them would be more beneficial to humankind, compared to the alternative of keeping the extraterrestrial realms undeveloped.  This, Pop argues, would encourage free enterprise to open the space frontier to human settlement.

Source: Berin Szoka, "Selling the Moon," Reason Magazine, April 2009; based upon: Leonard David, "Who Owns the Moon?", December 10, 2008; Virgiliu Pop, "Who Owns the Moon? -- Extraterrestrial Aspects of Land and Mineral Resources Ownership," Springer, 2008.

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