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The moon is not for sale

December 21, 2009 at 12:49 PM


Who owns the moon?

Dec. 18 marked the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Moon Agreement. This document declared that Earth’s satellite is common property of mankind.

The agreement was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979. It went into force in 1984, after the necessary fifth country had ratified it. Confirming the larger Outer Space Treaty of the United Nations, which calls for the peaceful use of celestial bodies and that their environment be protected. The United Nations requires to be notified of the location of any outpost established on the moon or other celestial body, and the purpose of the station. Additionally, the agreement states that the moon is the common heritage of mankind and that an international regime be established to govern the exploitation of its resources, once feasible.

We hope that the Earth is treated with such care and the example mankind has shown on this celestial body is not a foretaste of what is in store for the moon and planets as human exploration picks up. At least no one is there, on those bodies (as far as we know) to complain, so it seems to be up to us to be good stewards.

The United Nations lists what countries ratified the Moon Agreement. Nations reaching out to the moon have increased in recent years. In addition to the U.S.A. and Russia, India, China and Japan are making unmanned lunar forays. China has a goal to put astronauts there, perhaps creating a new space race for the United States in its tardy return.

Interestingly, the United States, Russian Federation and China had not ratified the 1979 Moon Agreement as of Jan. 1, 2009.

The Outer Space Treaty covers, among other things, protection for astronauts and spacecraft that make an emergency landing in a foreign country, and liability concerns for damages from falling space hardware.

There is an old song by Sam Cooke, “The Best Things in Life are Free.” The chorus goes, “The moon belongs to everyone. The best things in life they’re free. Stars belong to everyone. They cling there for you and for me.” I’m tempted to burst out in song here, so be thankful this is a newspaper story and not a broadcast.

This declaration of the moon treaty has been viewed as ambiguous. This has encouraged some speculators to push for private trips to the moon in hopes of chunks of lunar real estate. Some companies are said to be contemplating lunar mining ventures, and even building lunar resorts.

Private entrepreneurs are already dreaming of cashing in on space. Virgin Galactic has rolled out its second spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, meant to give well-heeled adventurers trips into space and back. These are sub-orbital flights, offering about five minutes of weightlessness as the craft ascends to about 65 miles above the Earth, and drops back down, landing like a regular airplane.

We may wish upon a star and there are some businesses claiming to sell you one, but in reality, no one owns the stars, let alone the moon or Mars. They remain free for anyone to look at and even visit (any plans?).

For more information on the Outer Space Treaty of the United Nations, see

Meteor watch

The Geminid meteor shower is one of the strongest of the year, and this month, the moon is nearly new, giving us dark skies. The meteor shower peaks on Dec. 13 and 14. They seem to emanate from the constellation Gemini, which is rising in the east on December evenings. New moon is on Dec. 16.

You may contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Just don’t try to sell me a piece of the moon.

Keep looking up!

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