Who owns the Moon? No one! But we can use the resources, says Christopher Johnson, Space Law Advisor, Secure World Foundation

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Updated: Sep 24, 2020 9:42 AM

Besides encouraging sustainable lunar resource extraction, it also seeks to ensure transparency and peace in outer space, and to facilitate international cooperation.

Moon, Artemis Accords, What is this Artemis Accord, NASA, International Space Law, moon mining, Outer Space Treaty, india, latest updates on moonThe annexation or conquering of celestial bodies, or even parts of celestial bodies, by States, is prohibited in the Outer Space Treaty.

Earlier this year in May, the US Space agency NASA had announced a new set of principles which are specifically designed to safeguard the use of Outer Space — `Artemis Accords’. What is this Artemis Accord?

Besides encouraging sustainable lunar resource extraction, it also seeks to ensure transparency and peace in outer space, and to facilitate international cooperation.

And to also “establish a common set of principles to govern the civil exploration and use of outer space.”

Though there is not much known about International Space Law about moon mining, Christopher Johnson, Space Law Advisor at the Secure World Foundation, and Adjunct Professor of Space Law, at Georgetown University, in Washington DC, interacts with Huma Siddiqui.

Following are excerpts:

What is the legal implication of mining the moon?

This is an important question. In order to do long-term space exploration, with humans existing for long periods of time on the Moon, or on Mars, or on any other celestial body, we will need to use the resources that we find there. Just like it would be unreasonable to plan a vacation or move to another country and take all of the food, water, air, and fuel that you will need during that time with you in your suitcase, it would also be unreasonable for astronauts to live on the Moon for longer than a few days or weeks and expect them to take all the water, air, food, and fuel with them in their ship. We have the technology to use resources in space, and since these astronauts will be millions of kilometers from the Earth, they will have to use the resources there to survive. So, using space resources is essential for humanity’s future in space. The good news is that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty does not prohibit this.

What does the Outer Space Treaty prohibit?

It prohibits is a certain, specific act by States. The annexation or conquering of celestial bodies, or even parts of celestial bodies, by States, is prohibited in the Outer Space Treaty. And this type of annexation is not necessary for long-term presence on the Moon. We don’t need Statehood and territories on the Moon. We just need to use the resources there.

Who owns the Moon?

Nobody owns the Moon. Not the US, not India, or China, or any individual State. Additionally, the Moon is not owned ‘collectively’ by the various states and governments around the world. Humanity also doesn’t own the Moon. It is not ours. However, we have all agreed that we have the right to go to the Moon, and use it, and live there, and use resources we find there. And we further agree that no State can annex or claim the Moon as their own.

There are reports talking about the US plans to mine the moon. What are your thoughts on this?

Well, “mining” is not really the best term to use. The Moon has only 1/6th the gravity of the Earth, and if we set up machinery on the Moon, it will look different from mining on Earth. The first — machines will just be scooping up dirt (“regolith”) on the Moon and separating it, and perhaps baking it to remove necessary chemicals and substances. But yes, the US has written legislation for US companies to go ahead and do this. The US companies can “mine” the Moon because we now have national laws which give the specifics of how to do it.

What about India?

Indian companies can also “mine” the Moon, but they should first create national legislation giving the details and particulars about how they will do it. I think the global space industry, and people in the US and many others around the World, would really love it if India also joined in and began to start doing more and more lunar activities, including using the resources that are to found there. The world would love to see India as active and successful as the US in lunar exploration and lunar development.

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