Sunday, May 27, 2012
NASA Seeks Property Rights on the Moon?
"Comprehensive protection for the Apollo sites will only come through an international agreement designating those sites as protected areas. Nevertheless, international space law and traditional property and tort laws currently provide limited mechanisms for protecting the Apollo artifacts should a future private or state-sponsored lunar operator damage, contaminate, or attempt to salvage this equipment," was the conclusion reached by attorney Matthew Kleiman in a November 7, 2011 article published by Space Review.
On May 24, 2012, the Google Lunar X-Prize accepted proposed set of NASA guidelines entitled, "NASA’s Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Lunar Artifacts" that seek to preserve important heritage locations of the Apollo landing and Ranger impact sites. The guidelines have been made available internationally, and the agency welcomes other nations to participate in and improve upon them, said NASA spokesperson Joshua Buck.
The Apollo 11 and 17 sites — the first and last places visited by man — are singled out in particular for extra care and respect. Robots are prohibited from visiting both sites and are requested to remain outside a large radius (250 feet for Apollo 11 and 740 feet for Apollo 17) to prevent a stray rover from accidentally harming hardware or erasing any footprints.
While the United States space agency have few legal options to enforce the restrictive "guidelines" from violation, as properly noted by Kleiman, the fact that the United States is circulating the document to private contenders for the Google Lunar X-Prize and foreign nations does appear to raise the specter of lunar property rights.
Perhaps Rand Simburg's suggestion for a comprehensive international lunar property rights regime has growing merit, but with a demurrer by James Dunstan and Berin Szoka. Thomas Gangale also has interesting insights at to lunar property rights with a recent book. Obviously, legal scholars need to more fully engage the scope of lunar property rights as Moon mining companies set-up shop.