The chronicles of the Head Cheese: Who owns the Moon?

How many times have you been tempted to buy a piece of real estate on the Moon or on Mars? Since it’s the Moon week, let’s see first who owns the Moon and will worry about Mars later although it is through the Mars filliera that I have been made aware of the existence of such an awesome concept.

In 2009 someone actually thought about and wrote an entire book on the subject. That illustrious person is no other than my Romanian Commander for the Mars Mission I attended at MDRS (The Mars Desert Research Station, in Utah), in 2010. His name is Virgiliu Pop and he is a space lawyer, working for the Romanian Space Agency.

Virgiliu was so good at selling his book to all his friends and acquaintances that convinced me to pay the full amount of 50$ at the time, which I gladly did, but not without scolding him yet to realise later that was a really good price for such a wealth of information!

He is a real space lawyer – which in a definition given by the Economist quotes to be the  “lunatic fringe of the profession”.

In his book, Virgiliu brings into discussion old precedents, the Little Prince’s businessman that he encounters in his travels through the Solar System. The irony is not far from the truth. The first Lunar Embassy established by a real Mr Dennis M. Hope, The Head Cheese was based exactly on the fact that nobody thought of putting a claim on things from outer space before. Mr Hope in fact boasted to have sold “unreal estate” to 3,6 million extraterrestrial property owners, in 181 (Earth) countries.

  1. Unreal or not, The Moon was often sought as the symbol of supreme desire – notes Virgiliu. Owning the Moon was the ultimate want and asking for the impossible. When just after the war the two superpowers began what was going to be known as the Cold War, it was the future President Johnson who convinced the then President Kennedy to deliver his powerful speech that then worked on its intended audience not through the  invocation of science or human curiosity but on the ideals of the free world against the threat of Communism. In facing such threat and carefully considering the perspective of going to bed “by the light of a communist moon” (Goldstein 1982, 191) the Congress allocated the funds that the U.S. needed to eventually win the space race.

On May 21, 1961, Kennedy asked for an additional seven to nine billion dollars on “urgent national needs” placed clearly in the camp of competing ideologies:

“If we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination from which road they should take.” (NASA 2004)

This discourse was kept alive for the duration of the Moon race.

But before the Russians and Americans started fighting for the Moon, a man called Dean Lindsay of Ocilla, already claimed it in 1936. Presenting himself in the front of a Notary Public in Pittsburgh he made the claim for “all of the the property known as planets, islands-of-space or other matter, henceforth to be known as

“A.D. Lindsay’s archapellago” located in all the region visible (by any means) … from the city of Orcilla, GA, together with all… matter (except this world…) visible from any other planet, island-of-space or other matter”,

Virgiliu tells. Mr Lindsay however didn’t claim the space between these islands-of-space, which gave James Thomas Mangan the opportunity to do so to a decade later.

“On that memorable day of the Universe, December 20, 1948, at the stroke of midnight, after indefatigable research, James Thomas Mangan, standing high atop of the City of Chicago, reached out and seized all space in the sky in all directions away from the Earth as the complete possession and domain of the new sovereign Nation of Celestial Space.

Fortunately for us the United Nations rejected their request for membership on the basis of the provisions of Article 4.1 of the UN Charter, reading

Membership in the United Nations is open to all… States which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgement of the Organisation, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.

Which is why is really good to consult a space lawyer beforehand should you ever wish to lay further claims on things extraterrestrial. Fortunately to protect all of us, you can’t just go and claim space. The next article we’ll explore the Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Treaty and how they developed to protect space from us.