Who Owns the Moon? Who Owns Asteroids?

With private companies announcing their intentions to mine the lunar surface and asteroids for precious minerals, legal questions have arisen over how far the concept of ownership can be applied. 

What's the Latest Development?

Since the US-based company Planetary Resources announced its intention to mine asteroids for precious minerals, legal questions have arisen over to what extent the concept of ownership can be applied to space rocks and territory on the moon. "In just under two years, Planetary Resources says it will launch the first of a series of space telescopes into low-Earth orbit in a bid to spot nearby asteroids of a size and mineral composition potentially worth mining." A Las Vegas-based start up called Moon Express also plans to mine the lunar surface for minerals deposited there by meteorites.  

What's the Big Idea?

While the UN's Outer Space Treaty of 1967 states that "the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind," critics say the agreement is impossible to enforce. One legal solution being weighed would make asteroids the equivalent of fish in outer space, allowing companies to harvest them for profit but preventing them from making claims of ownership. "Planetary Resources are in a rather grey zone," says Joanne Wheeler, a UK government adviser on the UN's Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. "This is no legal certainty over whether they can do it or not."

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

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