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IPFS News Link • Space Travel and Exploration

The 1st private moon landing just happened. Is it time for lunar law?

•, By Monisha Ravisetti

There was an electric moment on Feb. 22, when Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lander, a rectangular prism built atop several slender metallic legs, touched down on the surface of the moon. Surely, moon landings are always a thrill. The descent of Japan's SLIM probe (complications and all) was inspiring, India's Chandrayaan-3 mission rippled voltaic moments of its own, capturing the hearts of many across the world, and filmmakers are still making movies about the Apollo years. But there's something special about Odysseus. 

With this landing, Odysseus is officially the first private spacecraft to ever achieve the feat. It's also the first American module to stand on the moon's cratered body in over half a century. The last time a US-borne probe got to Earth's reflective companion, it was 1972. And alongside these honors, Odysseus managed to carve out a very important place in humanity's upcoming lunar odyssey — it proved that commercial lunar landings can work, and it suggests we're about to see way more of them.

But while we've all surely caught the moon bug, lunar pioneers will soon need to contend with a pretty serious issue when it comes to space exploration. 

"The thing about space is there is very little law," Martin Elvis, an astrophysicist at the Harvard & Smithsonian's Center for Astrophysics, said during this year's American Astronomical Society meeting.

As Elvis says, the only firm type of space rulebook we have right now is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which outlines tenets such as "states shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects" and "states shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies." But even that has its caveats. 

"It's not a prescription of laws," Elvis said. "It's a set of principles."