Humans first set foot on the Moon half a century ago, but it remains largely unexplored and uncolonized to this day, and humankind cannot agree on how to do business there. After all, who "owns" the Moon?
Fifty years after Neil Armstrong made "one small step" on the surface of the Moon on July 21, 1969, the race to once again reach the Earth's closest – yet still so distant – celestial body seems to be in full swing.
Interest in our planet's only natural satellite grew for about three years, between 1969 and 1972, then waned as the rest of the Apollo program was canceled.
It has recently been reignited, however, as more nations join the new space race – this time as less of a quest for glory or science, and fueled more by the idea of potentially using the Moon's natural resources.
As newcomers share their plans for future lunar exploration, and established spacefaring nations such as the US and Russia plan a return to the Moon, many questions arise.
Who 'owns' the Moon?
Legally, no one. The Outer Space Treaty (OST), which came into being in 1967 (two years before the first lunar landing), explicitly states that exploration and use of the Moon "shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries" and by no means can be "subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty" or any other means. Does this make exploration and any peaceful research activities related to the Moon free to anyone with enough resources and the will to do so?
"The Moon is certainly the object of international law and is not a legal gap," Alexander Vylegzhanin, a professor at MGIMO University, told RT.
The 1979 'Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and other Celestial Bodies', (the Moon Agreement) provides specific rules for activities related to the natural resources of the Moon (Article 8, in concreto). It also provides for the establishment of an international regime "to govern the exploitation of the natural resources of the Moon" (Article 11).
The problem is that the Moon Agreement, according to Professor Vylegzhanin, "has not received great support" – less than 20 nations (and neither the US nor Russia) are party to it.
His colleague, Mariam Yuzbashyan, associate professor at MGIMO University, added that "it will be important to preserve compliance with the cornerstone principles of international space law, which are of great significance for further stable development of space activities, including the commercial ones and specifically those in potential resource exploitation. As to the latter at best before any potential conflicts could arise a special international regime should be agreed upon by most states."