With private companies breaking their way into space, property rights on the moon and other astronomical bodies are about to become very important. The issue is currently in legal limbo. Here's a fun test case:
In an attempt to illustrate the relative lawlessness of space, Gregory Nemitz, a US aerospace consultant, registered a claim to Eros, also known as Asteroid 433, in March 2000.
When NASA landed its Near Shoemaker spacecraft on the four-billion-year-old moon as a permanent fixture the following February, Nemitz sent the US space agency an invoice for a nominal $20 (?11) to cover the next century?s parking fees. NASA officials refused to pay, so he took them to court. His claim, the first legal case over space property, was denied but on Tuesday this week he filed a federal appeal.
A loss for Nemitz probably wouldn't be as disastrous as the article goes on to claim. There are plenty of grounds to differentiate his claim from more serious extraterrestrial property claims—for instance, he's never physically been to this asteroid and doesn't have any plans to go there himself. But probably this issue would best be sorted out sooner rather than later.