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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.

NEXT: Meanwhile, Back at Abu Ghraib

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  1. I got dibs on Europa!

  2. You can’t have Europa. All these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landings there.

  3. you can only have Europa if you carry her off in the form of a bull. Like the rest of us.

    Invoicing NASA $20 for a century of parking just cracks me up.

  4. But, but, but, I figured I could make a ton of money selling the life that’s already there, either for their stem cells or perhaps as indentured servants. They might even taste good!

  5. As if you would even want to go to Europa. See this article to see what I mean. Bring a VERY STRONG suit.

    I think Nemitz has less of a chance with his suit than Newdow did with the Pledge of Allegiance.

  6. thoreau,

    Don’t you know that Europa’s been destroyed ?

    http://tinyurl.com/7xzh6

  7. Thoreau’s right, though I should point out that that message won’t be heard for another six years. Does that mean the monolith aliens will owe Native NYer (the new owner of Europa) payment for their “taking” in 2010? And for the eminent domain hearing, what’s the fair market value of a moon of Jupiter? A lot higher if you’re in negotiations to lease it to Disney, I’d say. Yes, that’s right, for Europa Disney!

  8. While you all argue over Europa, I will claim Io and its vast mineral wealth. When you need radioactive isotopes to get off your godforsaken, acidic rock, I’ll be just down the orbit selling at low, low prices.

  9. Not to rain on any parades, but isn’t the treaty pretty clear – no nation party to the treaty can claim sovereignity over any celestial body; and all lunar facilities can be visited by any nation’s personnel (so there’s no right of exclusion to be had). The no-sovereignity reads to me that no court can enforce any kind of claim. So the dude in the article can assert private property rent on NASA all he wants (like he said, the treaty doesn’t state he can’t) but now he has to shop for a jurisdiction to enforce that claim. Good luck to him there.

    http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/intdip/usmulti/usmu016.htm

    So what happens – a space-capable nation withdraws from the treaty and asserts that their courts are law in space, thus agitating the rest? Or some multinational gets a developing country (off the radar for the 1967 treaty) to host a flag-of-convenience. Awesome, the future becomes Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy.

    I can’t see any solution to extending rule of law in space that doesn’t end in one nation unilaterally asserting dominion of the entire cosmos; or leading to a dark SF future where space is ruled by asshole corporations.

  10. You rule, thoreau.

  11. Unless the guy is actually squatting on the asteroid, he doesn’t own the property.

  12. Until you get a bigger ray gun than mine, it’s my asteroid, buster. Now get off my property.

  13. He should have sent NASA a $20 ticket for littering. Now that would have been funny!

  14. Perhaps I should lay claim not only to planets, asteroids, and moons, but also to vast regions of space and issue tickets for trespassing to all governments and corportations that send objects into them.

  15. I’m thinking of rejoining thr R.C. Church, and persuading the Pope to grant me dominion over all extraterrestial bodies. That worked pretty well for Spain and Portugal for a century or so.

    Kevin

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