Friday, October 21, 2011

Moon Wars: International law could let China own the moon

From Yahoo News: Moon Wars: International law could let China own the moon
With commercial spaceflight (literally) launching soon, the U.S. private sector isn't the only group stepping up its space game. China just sent its 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 space station module skyward, and now the country could be poised to stake out the moon for its own.

At the 2011 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight, aerospace entrepreneur and commercial space expert Robert Bigelow made the case that the U.S. is just resting on its lunar laurels — and China might make a big move. In the scenario, China will continue to ramp up its space program for the next ten years, a trend the country has already expressed clear interest in pursuing. Then, based on murky international space laws, China could actually take ownership of the moon — especially if it were able to defend its claim with a constant lunar human presence. Of course, the U.S. could do the same, but is limited by a tightening space budget and a much higher level of national debt.

But who does own the moon? Technically, either no one or anyone who says they do. In 1967, the United Nations published a document (Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies) declaring that space is "the province of all mankind" and can't be divvied up, according to international space law. Many space-faring countries signed onto the agreement, but some enterprising commercial groups are still in the business of "selling" parcels of the moon to private entities, claiming that space law only applies to nations.

While the broader Outer Space Treaty found wide international support (China and the U.S. included) when it was drafted, nations have been reluctant to commit to a more recent U.N. document known as the Moon Treaty (or Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies). The treaty stipulates that no state can claim sovereignty over any territory of celestial bodies, but nations like China, the U.S. and Russia are conspicuously absent. To date only 13 nations have been signed on and ratified, none of which have an established space presence.

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