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Buy land on moon: the scheme, its legitimacy and its future
Property on moon
Logo of Lunar Embassy
Lunar deed, map and bill of rights
Claims of number of clients
Ramesh Sharma and Madhu Sharma show documents related to their ownership of property at moon - Photo by Pradeep Tewari
Sea of Tranquility and its neighborhood areas that are up for sale
A friend of mine asked me if I was interested in buying land on moon. Apparently, he came to know about a company in USA, which claims that it is the only entity "to possess a legal basis and copyright for the sale of lunar, and other extraterrestrial property within the confines of our solar system." I could not decide whether to moan, cry or get crazy. I was sure it was an internet hoax and my friend was just getting cynical about it. So, I decided to do some research and come up with the full story on buying land on moon. This hub is a summary on the business of selling lunar land and whether it is legitimate or not. Hope you are not an owner.
Who is selling land on moon?
Lunar Embassy is the company, which claims to have been in the business of selling Lunar Property for over 25 years to over 3.4 million customers. It has granted the rights to a couple of associated websites along with the main website to sell lunar land to corporations and individuals. The mastermind behind the lunar real estate development is Dennis Hope, who claims to have secured legal ownership of the moon and most other bodies in the solar system. Approximately 20 years ago, Hopes registered a claim to the surface of Earth's moon and the eight other planets and their satellites with the U.S. government. He also sent notice of this claim the Russian government and the United Nations. Thus began the celestial race of buying and selling land on moon.
There are many other companies, which are selling land on the moon as well, but it seems that Lunar Embassy is the first and biggest. In the United States alone, at least a dozen private ventures are looking at ways to reach the moon commercially, including efforts by SpaceDev, Idealab, TransOrbital and LunaCorp.
What are they selling on moon?
Depending on which website you are visiting, you can buy an acre of "prime real estate" on the moon - with great Earth views - starting $18.95 per acre and going up to $37.50 per acre. You also have "buy two - get discount" offers, 10 acre packages, The original range of exclusive lunar related gifts including 1 acre and 10 acre deeds for Land on the Moon and many other "attractive" packages. (See rate card at the bottom).
You also get Lunar Deed, which is your document of ownership of land on moon. See the excerpt from the Lunar Embassy website:
"This deed is printed on high quality parchment paper, with gold heading, and the name of the owner is specially printed in the centre. The whole deed is framed in a high quality frame ready for hanging on the wall. (Please Note: Delivery for ten acre plots can take up to 21 days.)"
In addition to the plot and deed, buyers also receive a site map, a copy of the lunar constitution bill of rights and a copy of Hope's declaration of ownership filed with the U.S. government. There's also a 30-day money back guarantee.
The properties are legally considered "novelty gifts". Hope opines that using the novelty term "can help avoid any frivolous lawsuits from a foreign country."
Are people really buying land on moon?
You will be shocked. News articles and the seller websites claim that the number of buyers is anywhere between 2 to 3.4 million people from over 176 countries. Over 300 million acre of lunar land has been sold so far and the number is rising fast.
According to these websites, among their million plus clients are many hollywood celebrities, two ex-U.S. presidents, fifteen Star Trek actors, NASA employees and at least 250 very well recognized faces and celebrities.
What are the current trends in the lunar real estate market?
Unlike the US housing market, the land prices are 'skyrocketing' on moon. The cost (including the lunar tax) of a 18,000 acres plot was about $27 in 2000, but now we have to shell out approximately the same amount for just one acre. Of course, the most expensive plot in the "Sea of Tranquility" region of moon comes for nearly $40 an acre. I am poor in Math, but you can imagine the returns.
But is selling land on moon legitimate?
Here comes the big catch. All this talk of buying land is fine but does the seller have legitimate title to sell lunar land? Popular answer among the learned people is a BIG NO.
Lunar Embassy's basis for their claim on moon is that the UN Outer Space Treaty of 1967 forbids governments from owning extraterrestrial property, but doesn't mention anything about individuals or corporations. This is certainly a loophole worth exploring, but in his celestial quest, Hopes chooses to ignore some essential points.
1. The 1967 outer space treaty said space "was to remain just like the high seas, free for use by all."
The existing laws forbid use of celestial bodies and their resources for profit making ventures. These bodies are only for further exploration to enrich the knowledge we have about universe. If you are selling lunar land, even in the name of gifts, it comes under the domain of a profit making venture, hence not allowed.
2. Individuals and corporations can claim ownership of land only through governments.
According to Von Der Dunk, co-director of the International Institute for Air and Space Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands, "As soon as you go into private properties rights, you end up in national rule. The rights of private ownership depend on one national jurisdiction or another."
His point is made valid by the interpretation that without a national system in space, there is no way for a citizen to authenticate a claim. The treaty, by forbidding nations from appropriating territory in space, essentially prevents individuals from doing the same.
3. If nobody owns the lunar land, then how can Lunar Embassy own it.
John Pike, a space policy analyst at the Federation of American Scientists says, "The bottom line is, he (Hopes) can't own property on the moon unless he's got a government to back him up. No one is claiming sovereignty rights on the moon. And if any government did, I'd be very skeptical that any other government would recognize that claim."
Therefore, my personal opinion on the issue is that this certificate which claims that you own part of the Moon is not legally binding. For the $30 bucks you'd pay for an acre of lunar land, you will end up owning just a worthless piece of paper. Though, I believe, you could still auction it on eBay and some serious collector of lunar land title deeds may purchase it at half the price.
Why don't I firmly say that selling land on moon is 100% illegal?
So far, no government has explicitly put an end to the argument or opposed Hopes' venture. All the comments and interpretation have come from analysts and people who specialize in matters related to universe, celestial bodies and even law and policies. As I see it, there may be two reasons behind it:
1. A government can't do anything because by definition, it has nothing to do with the title of lunar land
2. The money involved is not big enough right now, so governments and authorities are showing a very casual attitude towards the entire issue. Otherwise, even if the government can't oppose Hope's venture as owner of the celestial body, it can probably entertain a fraud case or a public interest litigation against the company.
What is the future of land selling business on moon?
As an article on space.com questions, what if a serious corporate enters the lunar land real estate and starts exploration? Probably, that is the event all nations are waiting for as a trigger to formalize the concerned laws. Whatever the trigger be, sooner or later, the nations will come together and keep individuals or corporations out of this business. Imagine NASA taking permission from you to land on your chunk of moon land. Do you seriously think US government is going to entertain such a scenario?
What is the future of Lunar Embassy and James Hopes?
Amid the confusion and lack of a firm explanation from an authentic body, Hopes is earning serious fortune. His website and venture is still working and he is still racking in mullah. Even if ten years down the line, nations come together and declare that he can't sell lunar land, he would be a billionaire by then.
What happens then? Do people who ‘invested' in lunar land get their money back along with the capital appreciation? Does he get convicted in a fraud case? Or does he become the greatest hoax success ever? I leave the answers to your own imagination.
I came to know
Chinese authorities have shut down this scheme in China on charges of "profiteering and lunacy."