The Western Lines

July 29, 2009

After Apollo, Can the dream of Solar System Settlement become reality?

Privatize the Moon

As a kid growing up in the Apollo era I confidently expected Lunar cities and Martian expeditions by now. Hey, I hoped to migrate to the Moon! Unfortunately that dream was never realized. If anything manned space exploration has taken a step back and we have been stuck in LEO since the 1970’s.

Human space exploration is still largely the occupation of governments, and government programs will always be dependent on budgetary considerations. President George W Bush approved a return to the Moon and the eventual exploration of Mars, but the Obama administration is reviewing those plans and is problematic if they survive.

Now many of use see great potential in Space. We see Solar Power Satellite He3 Moon mining, orbiting Space Colonies even the terraforming of Mars. A true Solar System civilization providing enormous wealth to all people. The trouble is that wealth is locked in the future, what is required is a way to release some of that value today so it ca be used to kick start the space enterprise.

Property developers do this all the time on Earth. Undeveloped land is sold to potential future developers who may develop the real estate themselves or sell it (hopefully at a profit ) to someone else who also sees economic potential in the land.

That requires property rights. We need a way to establish property rights on celestial bodies and do it now, so that capital can be found to build the settlements we want.

Which brings me to Alan Wasser, he has proposed that the United States recognize land claims on the Moon:

But, quite deliberately, the treaty says nothing against private property. Therefore, without claiming sovereignty, the U.S. could recognize land claims made by private companies, regardless of nationality, that establish human settlements on the Moon or Mars. The U.S. wouldn’t be “granting” or giving the land to anyone. It isn’t the U.S.’s to give. The settlement itself says “because we are the first to actually occupy this unowned land, WE claim ownership of it” – and the U.S. just “recognizes” – accepts, acquiesces to, decides not to contest – the settlement’s claim of private ownership. The proposed legislation would commit the U.S. to granting that recognition if those who have established settlements meet specified conditions, such as offering to sell passage on their ships to anyone willing to pay a fair price. Entrepreneurs could use that promise of U.S. recognition to help raise the venture capital to develop the ships needed to make the claim. The dollar value of a Lunar land claim will only become big enough to be profitable when people can actually get to the land. So Lunar land deeds, recognized by the U.S. under this plan, can be offered for sale only after there is a transport system going back and forth often enough to support a settlement and the land is actually accessible. It will finally be understood to be land in the sky, not pie in the sky.

Land claims on the Moon? Why not? They were used to open up previous frontiers. And have the great advantage of not relying on government funds. He claims the legislation would fit in with current treaties as no land grants as such would be offered. Such legislation would bound to be controversial and produce much heated arguments, but frankly, I have yet to hear of a better idea to really kick start Space development.


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