Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fighting for possession of the Moon

JFK speaking to Congress in 1961
In a speech to a Joint Session of Congress on May 25, 1961, John F. Kennedy announced his intention of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.

"First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."

In August 1962, Meher Baba said:

"Now men are planning to go to the Moon. And the first to get there will plant his nation's flag on it, and that nation will declare: 'It is mine.' But another nation will dispute the claim, and they will fight here on this Earth for possession of that Moon."

American astronaut planting a flag on the Moon in 1969
If one were looking for a quote by Baba that simply seemed 'wrong' this might be it. True that the U.S., which was first to arrive, did plant its flag on the Moon, just as Baba said. However, the rest of his account sounds wrong. Firstly, the planting of the U.S. flag on the Moon was said not to be a declaration of ownership at the time, but simply a symbol to commemorate America's involvement in the Moon's earliest exploration. Secondly, no fight has ensued over ownership of the Moon. In fact, the Outer Space Treaty was drafted in 1967 (today with 101 signatories) to prevent just such a claim.

So was Baba simply wrong?!

It might have seemed so in the 1970's when the last astronauts stood on the Moon. However, today things are not so simple.

While the Outer Space Treaty did ban national claims of sovereignty over the Moon, a more strictly worded treaty, the Moon Treaty (placing the Moon specifically in international hands with full sharing of resources), has not been ratified by a single nation which engages in self-launched manned space exploration. Thus it has little or no effect.

In the four decades since the Apollo landings ended, the world climate regarding property rights (especially in Russia and China) has changed. In addition, several valuable natural resources have been discovered on the Moon since then.

Helium-3 is highly sought for nuclear fusion, and though the technology is still in its infancy, the element will ultimately be quite valuable on Earth. Reserves of helium-3 on the Moon are in the order of a million tons, according to some estimates, and just 25 tons could serve to power the European Union and United States for a year.

Titanium is also found to be on the Moon in great amounts. A new map of the Moon has uncovered a trove of areas rich in precious titanium ore, with some lunar rocks harboring 10 times as much as rocks here on Earth. Detailed maps from a robotic NASA science satellite circling the moon show deposits of titanium as rich as 18 percent

The Moon also has stores of oxygen in its rocks along with water (as ice) at its poles, both ingredients needed for rocket fuel that would enable a base on the Moon.

Now is there any sign that fighting over property rights, including claims of sovereignty over portions of the Moon, is possible in the future. The answer is a resounding yes. It is definitely a possibility that this could still occur.

Does China Want To Own The Moon?

China could own the Moon by 2026, U.S. space entrepreneur warns

Experts Wonder Who Will Own the Moon

Who Owns the Moon? The Case for Lunar Property Rights

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