Outer space: ‘For everyone, for no-one’

Symbolic: Despite Armstrong planting the flag, the USA does not own any territory on the Moon.

Should anyone own space? Fifty years ago the Outer Space Treaty was signed, banning countries from owning parts of space. But as companies eye up the galaxy’s minerals, do we need a new law?

“It's a great honour and privilege for us to be here, representing not only the United States, but men of peace of all nations.”

Neil Armstrong spoke these words from the Moon to President Richard Nixon. As Nixon said, “For one priceless moment, all the people on this Earth are truly one.”

Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in 1969, but this message of internationalism reflected an agreement that was signed almost exactly 50 years ago: the Outer Space Treaty.

The treaty was a list of principles for what nations can or cannot do in space. Most notably, it forbids any government from claiming any part of space and restricts its use to peaceful purposes.

No weapons can be placed in orbit or space, and nations also cannot claim an asteroid as theirs. The cosmos should be open for every country to explore.

Now it is private companies that look most likely to herald a new space age. But the treaty makes no mention of whether a company can own part of the cosmos.

In May, commercial space companies recommended that the treaty should be updated to suit their needs.

As Earth’s resources become scarce, some think it would be more effective to allow companies to own areas of space.

The private space

This would be a “new hope for humanity”, writes Amica Graber in The Huffington Post. Our experience on Earth shows us that private companies and individuals are the most adept at pushing technological advances. Why not allow Elon Musk to do what he wants with a few square miles of the Moon?

Others believe that any creeping privatisation of space would be a disaster. As Taylor Dinerman writes in The Wall Street Journal, “Entrepreneurial companies have consistently over-promised and under-delivered.” Such a move would betray the principles of Armstrong, Aldrin and Gagarin. Space is not ours to own.

You Decide

  1. Should companies be able to own parts of space?

Activities

  1. Design an advertisement encouraging people to come and work on the Moon for a private company.

Some People Say...

“Ban humans from space. We do enough damage on Earth.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Outer Space Treaty was signed on October 10th 1967, 50 years ago. The treaty prohibits any country from claiming ownership of any part of outer space.
What do we not know?
Whether a new age of space exploration really is upon us. For decades there have been plans to put a man on the Moon or Mars “in the next few years”, but these plans have so far failed to materialise.

Word Watch

Outer Space Treaty
Its full name is the “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies”. The treaty has been agreed by 107 countries.
Elon Musk
The owner of SpaceX has announced plans to fly two tourists around the Moon at some point in 2018. The trip will cost $250,000 and they will “travel faster and further into the solar system than anyone before them.”
Gagarin
Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space on April 12th 1961.

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