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Who Owns the Moon? Privatizing the Commons of Space

By Carolyn Raffensperger The Obama administration is taking on a sacred cow --space missions. They want to privatize the rocket fleet and thereby reduce the costs of NASA so they can balance the federal budget. Of all the agencies that are near and dear to American’s hearts, it is NASA and their remarkable space explorations. The opposition, though loud and vociferous, has been relatively vague about the grounds for their opposition. The strongest argument they've made against privatization is that inexperienced corporations responsible for complex rockets will threaten astronaut safety.

There are better grounds for objecting to selling the public space program. This proposal should be quashed because privatization is the first step in a celestial land grab by corporations. If corporations own the only vehicles to get to the moon or Mars, what is to prevent them from claiming those bodies as their own property?

Here’s the logic. Imagine 10 years down the road when Corporation X owns the only rockets that take tourists and astronauts to the moon and other celestial bodies. Then they lay claim to the airport on the moon and use that as their base for mining the moon for resources.

This is not the first chess move by corporations to gain exclusive access to the moon.  For decades corporations have been developing technology to beam advertising on the moon.  Imagine looking up at the night sky and seeing the logo of your (least) favorite business emblazoned across the face of moon.

Entirely missing from the conversation is whether or not we want corporations to own land on other celestial bodies. Corporations have long understood the value of owning the last frontier – space -- and lobbied in the 1970s to prevent the United States from signing the Moon Treaty. A basic premise of the treaty is that the moon is the common heritage of everyone. That does not fit the basic model of the free market, which seeks to privatize benefits and externalize costs.

Until we clarify that space is the common heritage of everyone, not just private corporations in the United States, but everyone in every nation, until we have legally binding treaties to establish the commons and care of the commons, including the celestial commons, for present and future generations, then we need to leave space exploration in public hands. We don’t have to fund it, but we can’t hand it over to private corporations. We can begin by signing the Moon Treaty and acknowledging that we share the moon and all of space with all generations.