Civil Liberties

Space Oddities

Owning the heavens.


When you first fell in love, you had the International Star Registry name a star after your lover. But now that the romance has gone south, what's an equally dramatic way to get rid of the clothes, gifts, and jewelry that remind you of your hated ex? If a Nevada-based company gets its way, you'll be able to send the whole lot of it to the moon.

Orbital Development of Carson City is auctioning on eBay a chance to participate in its MoonCrash Project. The winner will get an opportunity to crash 22 pounds of personal cargo on the lunar surface when the company sends its spacecraft to the moon (an estimated 18 months from now). Bids start at $6 million.

This is not the only space project headed up by Orbital Development President Gregory Nemitz. In 2000 Nemitz staked a property claim to Asteroid 433, or Eros, a near-Earth body that, the company argues, is rich in silicon, iron, magnesium, and other elements. That claim, Nemitz says, gives him the right to charge the National Aeronautics and Space Administration the highly reasonable fee of $20 for one century's parking and storage fees: NASA's Near Shoemaker spacecraft has been parked on Eros since February 2001.

"Are we sure," Orbital Development asks on its Web site, "that there is not sufficient law in the United States for its people to proclaim original property in space and gain official respect for a person's right to own it?"

Not surprisingly, the space agency takes a more narrow view of individual property rights and has rejected Nemitz's claim. The government contends that space property claims are covered (and mostly prevented) by the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space. The Orbital Development site proudly displays negative judgments on its case from (so far) NASA, the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Reno.