Should the man in the moon be paying rent? And if so, who is his landlord?
This ridiculous question is marginally less ridiculous than it would have been just a decade ago, as space real estate becomes a very real issue we need to collectively address.
Selling plots of land on the moon or mars, as well as entire stars, is a business endeavor that has worked well for certain individuals who issue deeds of ownership to anyone who can purchase one. But, as buyers may well suspect, these certificates are less legally binding documents than they are humorous novelties.
Also known as extraterrestrial real estate, space real estate is any land (and other parts of space) outside the bounds of planet earth, and we need to collectively agree whether or not it belongs to any individual, government or other organization before we consider what potential it might have for investors.
Out in interplanetary territory, investors and developers will be need to abide by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, rather than national and local laws. This treaty recognises outer space as the ‘province of all mankind’ and doesn’t allow governments to stake nationalistic claims on any part of it.
The treaty said that “outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” This was followed in 1979 by the Moon Treaty, which forbids any private ownership of extraterrestrial real estate, although this has not been widely ratified.
There have been some interesting claims on land in space, none of which have held up. German Martin Juergens claimed the moon had been gifted to his family in 1756 and passed down through generations. A. Dean Lindsay claimed all extraterrestrial objects in 1936, while James T Mangan claimed all of outer space in 1948.
In 1953 Chilean lawyer Jenaro Gajardo Vera also claimed ownership of the moon, and in 1980 the Lunar Embassy Commission, headed by Dennis Hope, sold plots of land on the moon to the public. Three men from Yemen sued NASA in 1997 for invading Mars, claiming their ancestors had inherited the planet 3000 years ago.
There are also other elements that investors will need to consider should this become a new market full of opportunities. Whether a new territory in space is ripe for real estate investment will depend on the available transportation, the sustainability of the development, the astrobiology around it, and the critical mass of people ready and willing to set up life on other planets.
And then, of course, there’s a lot of long-term thinking involved. Exactly when investors would expect to see a return remains to be seen, considering we’re not as close to colonizing other planets as Elon Musk might have hoped by now. Only the longest of long term planning will take space real estate into account as a potential portfolio addition.