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A Wasser, October 9, 2001, "The Space Settlement Initiative", October 9, 2001.
Also downloadable from space settlement initiative.shtml

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The Space Settlement Initiative
Alan Wasser

Will people ever live and work on the Moon and Mars?

Will the settlement of space take place in your lifetime?

The settlement of space would benefit all of humanity by opening a new frontier, energizing our society, providing room and resources for the growth of the human race without despoiling the Earth, and creating a lifeboat for humanity that could survive even a planet-wide catastrophe.

Unfortunately, it seems clear that, as things stand now, space settlement will not happen soon enough for any of us to see it. However the legislation proposed here would:

  1. save NASA and the taxpayers the cost of developing affordable space transport by allowing private enterprise to assume the burden of settling space,
  2. make it possible for ordinary people to purchase tickets and visit the Moon as tourists, scientists, or entrepreneurs,
  3. create vast wealth from what is now utterly worthless,

It will take billions of dollars to develop safe, reliable, affordable transport between the Earth and the Moon. Neither Congress nor the taxpayers wants the government stuck with that expense. Private venture capital will support such expensive and risky research and development ONLY if success could mean a multi-billion dollar profit. Today, there is no profit potential in developing space transport, but we have the power to change that. We have the power to create a "pot of gold" on the Moon, waiting for whichever companies are the first to establish a "space line" and lunar settlement by risking their own necks, money and sweat.

How? By making it possible to claim and own -- and re-sell to those back home on Earth -- the product that has always rewarded those who paid for human expansion: land ownership.

When it ratified the 1967 "Outer Space Treaty" the U.S. agreed not to claim national sovereignty over the Moon or Mars, etc., but that treaty does not say anything against private property. Therefore, without claiming sovereignty, the U.S. could recognize land claims made by private companies, regardless of nationality, that establish human settlements on the Moon or Mars.

The proposed legislation would commit the U.S. to granting that recognition if those who establish the settlements meet specified conditions, such as offering to sell passage on their ships to anyone wlling to pay a fair price.

Entrepreneurs could use that promise of U.S. recognition to help raise the venture capital to develop the ships needed to make the claim.

It would take a really large land claim to be worth that huge investment, of course, but there is an amazingly large amount of land out there waiting to be claimed. For example, a claim of 600,000 square miles, about the size of Alaska (just under 1,600,000 square km.) would be only around 4% of the Moon's surface, but would be worth about $40 billion at even a very conservative price of $100 an acre (4047 square meters).

The price of the land might, by then, be much more. Under this proposal no one would be able to claim lunar land ownership without having first put into service a transport system going back and forth often enough to support a settlement. Therefore, when they sub-divide and offer U.S. recognized deeds for sale back on Earth, lunar land will actually be accessible. It will finally be understood to be land in the sky, not pie in the sky. It will be offered for sale after months of worldwide press coverage produced by the race to be the first to settle the Moon.

There will be land buyers with business purposes for buying and using land, but there will be a much bigger speculative and investment market. People will buy so they can leave an acre of land on the Moon to their grandchildren, or put their name on a crater.

The profits on land sales which take place in the U.S. will, of course, be subject to U.S. taxes, so the Budget Office will score this legislation as a revenue producer, not a cost to the U.S.

It sounds strange because we haven't done it yet, but there is growing sentiment for extending private property and the benefits of free enterprise to space. Former House Science Committee chair Bob Walker has suggested that the Bush administration would like to develop such a legal structure.

Before copyright and patent laws, no one could own songs, stories or ideas. The passage of those laws, creating intellectual property, made whole industries possible and added greatly to the world's wealth from things that had previously been valueless. Creating lunar property could be the incentive to open the space frontier to everyone, thus benefiting all of humanity.

The following are some answers to frequently asked questions, along with a rough draft of the proposed legislation. I welcome your comments on all of these ideas.

Questions and Answers:
What is the real purpose of enacting a land claims recognition law?

The establishment of a property rights regime for space is not the long-term objective. The creation of such a legal system of property rights is only a means to an end, not an end in itself.

The real purpose is to enable the expansion of the habitat of the human species beyond the Earth. It is to encourage private investment to develop affordable human transport to the Moon and Mars by offering a huge financial reward for privately funded settlement.

There are alternative space property rights schemes being proposed by some lawyers that would, instead, make settlement even harder than it would be now. They would require that, if you do pay to develop space transport, you would then have to pay the UN or some other body even more for the land you want to settle.

Property rights legislation should be judged by how well it encourages space settlement, not on how elegant the resulting property rights system is. Property laws could be left to evolve after settlement, except that settlement just isn't happening without them, so we need something like this legislation to jumpstart it.

Will promising property rights be enough to produce the necessary investment in developing affordable space transport?

Hopefully so, but it is impossible to know the answer to that question this early, because it is impossible to know how much such development will cost, or how long it will take until someone makes the necessary breakthrough. It is also impossible to know how much space settlement will cost, or exactly how much Lunar land will be valued at, or what other ways settlements will find to earn money to pay their operating costs, etc, etc..

Fortunately that isn't the question we need to answer now. The question we need to answer is...

Will promising property rights HELP to produce the necessary investment in developing affordable space transport?

Fortunately, it can be clearly demonstrated that the answer is YES:

There is no way to be sure just how much Lunar land will be worth when U.S. recognized deeds are being sold by people who can actually take you and your customers to the land, but it is certain that a piece of Lunar land the size of Alaska will be worth a very, very large amount of money. A man by the name of Dennis Hope has been making a small fortune year after year selling unrecognized Lunar land deeds, when there is no possible way to get there, and nothing can be done with those deeds.

Those who say property rights are not needed until after settlement has actually taken place are counting on near-term incentives (such as space tourism, servicing the space station, etc.) to produce all the necessary investment in affordable space transport, theestablishment of on-orbit infrastructure and then settlement itself. It is very much open to question whether such near-term incentives could be sufficient, but it is certain that adding a very big long-term incentive, on top of whatever near-term incentives there are, would have to help.

Imagine that you are an entrepreneur trying to get a venture capitalist to fund your research on a radical new idea that you think might reduce launch costs by an order of magnitude or more. He asks, If you succeed in this risky venture, how are you going to use it to make enough profit to make it worth my while? You tell him your projections of space tourism profits, etc., and he is impressed, but not enough. Then you add: in addition to all that, if we do reduce launch costs enough, it could later be used to establish a settlement on the Moon and immediately gain U.S. recognized ownership of 600,00 square miles that could be sold, and/or mortgaged, starting the very next day. If that were valued at only $100 an acre, it would be an instant gain of a $40 billion dollar asset on your books. Is there any chance that would not even help your case?

In sum, in order to spur the development of affordable space transport, this law doesn't need to bring in all the needed investment by itself. There are existing incentives but not quite enough. We need only bring in sufficient additional financing to tip the balance. The promise of property rights for space settlement is a very low cost, low risk, "do-able" way to attract that supplementary venture capital.

What does international law say about private property ownership in space?

Early in the negotiations for the 1967 "Treaty On Principles Governing The Activities Of States In the Exploration And Use Of Outer Space, Including The Moon And Other Celestial Bodies", generally called the Outer Space Treaty, the USSR suggested that the treaty ban private activities in space but, at the insistence of the Americans, all such provisions were dropped from the final treaty. According to the New York Times report of the U.S. Senate ratification hearings for the Treaty, (March 7, 1967) Senator Albert Gore (Senior) worried that the "benefit of all" provisions of Article 1 of the treaty might inhibit space activities. The Times says Arthur Goldberg, who negotiated the treaty for the U.S., reassured Gore by describing "the article as a 'broad general declaration of purposes' that would have no specific impact until its intent was detailed in subsequent, detailed agreements."

The one serious attempt to establish such a follow-up agreement was a disaster that the U.S. Senate refused to ratify, specifically because it attempted to ban private property. It was the 1979 "Agreement On The Activities Of States On The Moon And Other Celestial Bodies" generally referred to as "The Moon Treaty". It would have replaced the "benefit of all mankind" language with the drastically different "common heritage of mankind" doctrine. Some third world countries have claimed that the "common heritage" doctrine would mean that anyone wanting to establish a lunar settlement might have to pay off the leaders of every nation on Earth.

Fortunately, since it wasn't ratified by the U.S. or any other nation that was then spacefaring, the Moon Treaty is generally regarded as a dead letter, and is not binding on the U.S. or its citizens. Thus, as things stand now, private entities can claim ownership of land on the Moon "on the basis of use and occupation" although nations cannot.

Resistance to this idea in the State Department comes from those who sincerely believe only governments and government employees belong in space at all, ever, as a matter of principle and safety.

Can there be property ownership without sovereignty?

In countries like France, which follow what is called "civil law" (as opposed to "common law" which the U.S. inherited from the U.K.) property rights have never been based on territorial sovereignty but on the "Natural Law" theory that individuals mix their labor with the soil and create property rights independent of government, which merely recognizes those rights.

Throughout history, actual settlement, "occupation and use" has been the traditional basis for claims of ownership of land that had no sovereign. Columbus claimed the land he discovered by leaving a garrison on it, not by planting a flag. We want the U.S. to treat the settlement, itself, as having one of the attributes of a sovereign: the right to claim private ownership of unowned land by right of use and occupation.

For property rights on the Moon, the U.S. will have to recognize Natural Law's "use and occupation" standard, rather than the common law standard of "gift of the sovereign", because the common law standard cannot be applied on a Moon where sovereignty itself is barred by international treaty. The U.S. will have to say that, because there can be no government on the Moon, a true settlement can give itself title, just as though it were a government, and its property deeds, for land under its control, will be recognized by U.S. courts of law, (subject to specified limitations) just as titles issued by France, China and even Iraq, are recognized by U.S. courts.

Why not give smaller, limited land grants for easier steps than settlement?

It would be nice if we could offer a series of graduated rewards fore each little advance in space development, but it can't be done legally, ... and the grants wouldn't be worth anything much if it could be done.

Where the U.S. has sovereignty, and is the source of ownership, the government can give ownership of land, or limited rights to its use, for whatever reasons it chooses. But, since no nation can claim sovereignty on the Moon and Mars, the U.S. has nothing to give. The only thing governments can do is to recognize, or not recognize, a claim made by a private entity which has a good cause for making the claim.

It will take hard work to get Conress and the courts to accept even settlement and "use and occupation" as a basis for space land claim recognition, even though that has always been the basis for claims of ownership of land. Space claims based on less than settlement would be much harder to justify to the courts and the world.

More important, human settlement of space is our real goal! We are a lot more likely to actually see it happen if it is the required condition to win anything. Giving limited ownership for less could reduce the incentive, for both the winners and losers of the first round, to keep going full out toward settlement. Only when there is a live human being waiting on the Moon for the return flight can we be really sure that there will be a return flight, even if the accountants say, "put it off for a few years, or more."

But the most important reason to reserve grants for actual settlement is the following:

Can lunar land really be worth enough to make a difference?

It isn't how much land you get that matters. It is how many dollars it is worth! The dollar value of an acre of lunar land goes up exponentially the day buyers can actually buy a ticket and go there, or send a representative or a customer. That means the value of the grant goes up exponentially if we hold it back until there is a space line going back and forth.

The value of the land claim can be similarly increased if we capitalize on the media coverage of a space ship taking off to try to win the race to establish the first human settlement on the Moon. The day people land on the Moon, set up permanent habitation, and stay there while the ship goes back for more people, they will be the whole world's heroes. At that very moment, back on Earth, their representatives will finally be free to start selling, at huge prices, seats on subsequent trips, and, at prices people all over the Earth can afford, valid deeds for land around their base. People will even buy land as a way to support, or just feel part of, the project.

Then, and only then, will a lunar land claim reach the multi-billion dollar value that would make a real difference, enough to justify even the billions it took to win it.

What conditions should the U.S. set for recognition of a claim?

It should set an appropriate limit to the amount of land that can be claimed, (and it will be easier to increase the size of a grant, later, than to reduce it). It should require the settlement to behave by international norms. It should require that the settlement be open to all and prohibit anti-competitive behavior. Regulations could even include protection for sites of historical or other special importance.

It might also be required that only a certain percentage of land sale revenue can be used to repay the cost of establishing the settlement and taken as profit, the balance being retained to support the settlement itself until it can find ways to earn enough to become self sufficient.

How much land should a settlement be able to claim? ..and why?

The first settlement on the Moon should be able to claim up to 600,000 square miles. Getting to Mars will cost much more and Mars itself is larger than the Moon. Therefore the first Martian settlement should be able to claim up to 3,600,000 square miles, roughly the size of the United States, worth 230 billion dollars at even $100 per acre.

Some critics object that would allow a settlement to claim more land than it can use, but the amount of land that can be used depends on what you are using it for. Nineteenth century land grant farmers used 40 acres and a mule. Modern mechanized farms use vastly more land than that. Cattle ranchers use much more land than farmers. But none of those are the size criteria that should be used for a Lunar settlement because, of course, the settlement will not make its living by either farming or ranching.

The plan is to let settlements recoup the cost of getting there in the first place by selling land. If you are in the real estate business, especially if you are selling totally raw Lunar land, you can use all the acreage you can get title to.

So the "right" size for a claim is that size which is just large enough to justify the cost of developing reliable space transport and establishing a settlement, ... but small enough to force the development of cost effective, affordable, transport, ... and small enough to still leave room for future settlements.

That's how the proposed settlement sizes were derived. Real estate experts guessed at the minimum the land would bring when you could buy a ticket and get to it. Space experts guessed at what was the least that financially efficient private companies could hope to establish settlements for. The average settlement cost estimates, divided by the estimated average dollars per acre, gave the number of acres needed. Converted to square miles, that worked out to approximately 600,000 square miles on the Moon and 3,600,000 square miles on Mars.

Fortunately, that is quite small enough to still leave plenty of room for subsequent settlements, since it is only around 4% of the Moon, 6.5% of Mars. Since it is much easier to follow than to lead, and we want to encourage leadership, no settlement after the first gets even that much. Each subsequent settlement gets 15% less land than the previous one. Finally, no entity can get recognition for more than one settlement on a body. Therefore there is no possibility of anyone monopolizing all the land.

Why must the space line and settlement be open to all paying passengers regardless of nationality?

International law clearly requires that opening the space frontier must "benefit all mankind" and that there must be "access to all areas of celestial bodies".

The Outer Space Treaty, in its very first article, says, "The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries ... and shall be the province of all mankind. ...and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies."

Article XII says: "All stations, installations, equipment and space vehicles on the moon and other celestial bodies shall be open to representatives of other States Parties to the Treaty on a basis of reciprocity. Such representatives shall give reasonable advance notice of a projected visit, in order that appropriate consultations may be held and that maximum precautions may be taken to assure safety and to avoid interference with normal operations in the facility to be visited." All settlements and property owners will have to accept that rule unless the Treaty is ever changed.

Establishing a space line and settlement open to all paying passengers, regardless of nationality, would certainly benefit all mankind, thus making it both necessary and sufficient to meet that very important condition of international law.

The question of compliance with the access requirement of the Outer Space Treaty upsets a lot of people, on both sides of the issue. Greg Nemitz calls me a Communist for acceding to the access requirement, because it means property owners can't have an absolute right to keep everyone else off their land. Wayne White, however, insists my plan fails because it does not go far enough to comply with that same "free access" rule. I, of course, think I've made the best compromise possible until and unless the treaty is revised.

Are the weaknesses and compromises in this plan likely to be permanent?

The most probable immediate outcome of U.S. passage of a land claims recognition law would be the prompt start of international negotiations -- negotiations which will never happen otherwise -- toward a new treaty (or new bilateral treaties) in which a number of the weaknesses and compromises necessary at this stage could be resolved.

Hopefully the resulting new space treaty will provide uniform international recognition of property rights in space in return for providing non-discriminatory access to all. Enforcement mechanisms, revision of the free access rules, permanence of claims, questions of sovereignty and legal jurisdiction, size of subsequent claims, etc., etc., might also be on the agenda.

At the moment, the diplomatic community, much of which would prefer space remain open only to governments anyway, sees much higher priorities than a new space treaty. If this legislation passes, and nothing further is done, the U.S. will have created the de facto property regime for the Moon, and settlement will seem imminent. That should give the diplomatic community a strong incentive to start negotiations toward a new treaty.

Do Land Grants work?

Although classic land grants cannot be used in space because sovereignty is prohibited, the objective of land claims recognition in space is the same as the objective of land grants on Earth: the use of property rights as an incentive to get private individuals to do something of great value to the whole society.

Much of the United States was developed by the use of land grants, from large parts of the original 13 colonies through the settlement of the West. Congress, not wanting to use government funds, used land grants to encourage the building of the transcontinental railroads.

Fortunately, the application of land claims recognition to space has a big advantage over the use of land grants for building railroads. To get a railroad built, someone (usually whoever has the best political connections) must be selected and given a monopoly over the right of way before they have proven that they can and will deliver on their promises. Railroad companies' promises were often broken. In space the system can be structured to promote real competition, rewarding only those who have actually gotten the job done, by requiring actual "use and occupation" for all property claims.

Could this law produce a new "space race"?

The first lunar settlement would have a big advantage over others that came later. Clementine and Lunar Prospector have demonstrated that the poles of the Moon have many potential advantages over other areas of the Moon. The lunar poles have water which is frozen and/or bound into the lunar soil. In addition, the polar mountain tops are not cursed with 14 days of darkness every month.

The team that is first to find a way to build affordable human transport to the Moon would get first choice of the Lunar poles. The second would have to settle for 15% less land and the less desirable pole. Claims after that would be worth much less. That should provide a powerful incentive to race to be the first.

Will a settlement need other sources of revenue?

Even if land sales can pay most or even all of the initial cost of developing a space line and establishing a settlement, other sources of revenue will have to pay for the continuing operating expenses. Among the many such possible sources of revenue are tourism, government and university research stations, the production of entertainment such as movies and televised low-gravity sports, etc., mining of resources like Helium 3, power generation, and even the sale of lunar souvenirs such as jewelry made from Moon rocks. But we can't possibly predict, now, all of the future sources of revenue. The opening of frontiers always leads to the development of new businesses that would have been impossible to foresee in advance.

Could other sources of revenue be enough, without land claim recognition?

All these years after humanity first landed on the Moon, no one is investing serious money in going back to stay. That fact alone is proof that the currently possible sources of revenues are not enough and must be augmented somehow.

This project will not only cost a lot, it will take a lot of time, pushing the limits of how long investors will wait for a return. The other ways to make money will all take additional time and investment to start paying off. Only land sales can produce returns as soon as the settlement is established, and therefore they will be the first dollars earned by the investors. That would make land sales particularly important in the business plan of any private settlement effort.

What if the settlement does not produce enough operating revenue to pay off its debts and make a profit?

Land grant railroad companies went bankrupt, but the new owners kept operating the trains. This legislation must be structured to be sure that, if a settlement company goes bankrupt, its ships and settlement will be sold, if need be, for pennies on the dollar, to others who will keep them operating.

Is this only for Americans?

The legislation cannot claim U.S. sovereignty and should grant equal opportunities to citizens of all nations to invest in settlement projects, to purchase tickets on the space line, and to purchase land. It should offer reciprocity to all other nations that pass similar laws.

Given today's global economy, it is likely that all entrants in the race to establish a settlement will be multi-national consortia. The investor/owners will be drawn from all around the world, and the teams of aerospace companies cooperating to build the ships will, too. It is just too big a job for one company, or even one nationality, to undertake alone.

Why is U.S. legislation so important?

Because the U.S. is where the money and the media are, the U.S. will be the first and most important market where the land deeds will eventually be sold to the public. Therefore, it is the U.S. courts that will rule on whether lunar land sales are valid transactions or frauds. What this legislation does is tell the courts what standard to use in making that ruling.

Could the U.S. withdraw from the Outer Space Treaty, claim national sovereignty on the Moon, then award property rights to whomever it pleased?

The Outer Space Treaty says any nation can withdraw from the treaty on one year's notice. Some suggest this would be a simple route to establishing private property on the Moon, but it is a dead end. There is no chance at all we will withdraw from the treaty because, in some ways, it provides a sound framework for activities in space, and it includes provisions, such as banning weapons of mass destruction from space, that are considered much too important to tamper with.

That may actually be a blessing in disguise. If the U.S. did have sovereignty, land grants would undoubtedly be handed out on the basis of political connections, not on the basis of actually having opened the space frontier. Those who had received the land grants could then charge those who wanted to establish a settlement, rather than funding them. Thus, private property established that way might delay settlement, rather than hasten it.

Does recognizing a land claim obligate the U.S. military to defend the settlement?

No! U.S. recognition of land ownership means its courts, not its military, must defend ownership. At the most, the U.S. might impose economic sanctions against any aggressor, if there ever were one.

But aggression is not going to be the problem it would be on Earth, because it really wouldn't pay economically.

The main value of the land, especially at the beginning, is its market value on Earth. Stolen land would be very hard to sell, and its title would always be in doubt, so it makes overwhelmingly better sense to buy land from the first settlement than to try to develop a transport system capable of mounting a war of aggression against it. Anyone who had such ships could use them to establish a whole new legitimate settlement, rather than fighting to steal some of the 4% of the Moon in the first settlement. In later years, settlements will establish their own defenses.

What effect would this have on NASA and the aerospace companies?

This legislation would create a huge demand for space ship design ideas and expertise, greatly benefiting the companies. NASA would continue to do basic research and design that would help everyone, and individual centers might well be allowed to contract to work on specific problems on a proprietary basis. NASA could also play a role in helping to determine whether ship designs are safe and reliable and whether a genuine permanent settlement has been established.

Who came up with this idea?

Alan Wasser is a former broadcast journalist at ABC News and CBS News, who then owned and operated a successful international business, which he sold. He was the Chairman of the Executive Committee (CEO) of the National Space Society and is now a member of its Board of Directors. He was a member of the Board of Directors of ProSpace, and is an Advocate of the Space Frontier Foundation.

He was the first to propose that the first human settlement on the Moon might use a permanently sun-lit mountain top at the moon's south pole, the existence of which was only later confirmed by the Clementine mission. Much of Ben Bova's novel Moonrise takes place on that lunar mountain, which Bova named "Mt. Wasser".

He is the originator of the idea of using land claim recognition to make privately funded space settlements potentially profitable, and therefore possible in our lifetime. He is the author of numerous articles on the subject of space property rights, most recently in The Explorers Journal, the official magazine of the Explorers Club, Space News, Ad Astra, Space Governance , Space Times and Space Front among others. Space Governance published a rough draft of the proposed legislation.

But this is much more than the work of just one person. Many others have contributed a great deal to it, deserving thanks and credit for supplying key ideas, explaining the fine points of international law, promoting the idea, helping with writing and editing or in other ways, and even by attacking the plan and exposing weak points that needed fixing. (Of course, some of those helpful attacks came from critics who continue to strongly oppose parts or all of the plan. Therefore, being thanked below does not imply endorsement.) Among the many who contributed are Scott Pace, Marianne Dyson, Glenn Reynolds, Wayne White, Gordon Woodcock, Declan O'Donnell, Ray Collins, John Carter McKnight, Arjen Van Ballegoyen, Bryce Walden, Leonard David, Lawrence Roberts, Pat Dasch, Ben Bova, Jeff Liss, Michael Heney, Rick Tumlinson, Carol Kochman, Toni Sonet, David Wasser, Art Dula, Robert Zubrin, Jim Bennett, Bob Werb, Charles Wood, Fred Ordway, Jim Benson, Pat Bahn, Peter Kokh, Grant Davi! s, Ed Wright, Alford Lessner and Charles Miller. Sincere apologies to the many others who should have been mentioned but have been accidentally overlooked.

First draft of "An Act to Promote Privately Funded Space Settlement"

The expansion of the habitat of humanity through the establishment of space settlements will be of inestimable value for America and all mankind. Because the government needs to limit expenditures, it will be even better if financed by private capital rather than taxpayer's money.

Unfortunately, the potential short-term profit sources are much too small to attract the billions of dollars of private capital necessary. So a new, additional incentive is badly needed. The potential value of land on the Moon, Mars, or an asteroid can provide that additional economic incentive for privately funded space settlement. It is the only possible incentive that will not cost the government anything.

As far as the U.S. is concerned, there is currently no international law on private land ownership in space because the U.S. (and most other major nations) deliberately refused to ratify "The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies", 1984, (hereafter called the Moon Treaty). The U.S. Senate's refusal to ratify means that the Moon Treaty's provisions are not "the law of the land" in US courts, and therefore need not inhibit the actions of US citizens or legislators.

Even more important, the very fact that the framers of the Moon Treaty felt it necessary to attempt to write a rule forbidding private ownership of land on the moon, can itself be taken as a clear confirmation that that objective had not already been accomplished by "The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies", 1967, which the US did ratify, (hereafter known as the Outer Space treaty), nor by UN resolution GA/res/1962.

Thus the failure of the Moon Treaty means there is no legal prohibition in force against private ownership of land on the moon, Mars, etc. as long as the ownership is not derived from a claim of national appropriation or sovereignty (which is prohibited by the Outer Space treaty).

Congress presumes that it is only a matter of time until new treaties are negotiated, establishing a functional private property regime and granting suitable land ownership incentives for privately funded space settlements. The US will, of course, abide by such new international law when it has ratified such a new treaty. But, given the urgent need for privately funded human expansion into space, as soon as possible, Congress feels something must be done immediately, on a provisional basis, to correct the present inefficiencies in the international standard on property rights in space and to promote privately funded space settlement.

For property rights on the Moon, etc, the U.S. will have to recognize natural law's "use and occupation" standard, rather than the common law standard of "gift of the sovereign", because the common law standard cannot be applied where sovereignty itself is barred by international treaty.

U.S. courts already recognize, certify and defend private ownership and sale of land which is not subject to U.S. national appropriation or sovereignty, such as a U.S. citizen's ownership (and right to sell to another U.S. citizen, both of whom are within the U.S.) a deed to land which is actually located in another nation. U.S. issuance of a document of recognition of a settlement's claim to land on the Moon or Mars, etc. can be done on a basis analogous to that situation.

This legislation concerns only the issuance of such a U.S. recognition and acceptance of a settlement's claim of private land ownership based on use and occupation, regardless of the nationality of the owner, and nothing in it is to be considered a claim of national appropriation of, nor sovereignty over, any outer space body, or any part thereof. The U.S. does not claim the right to "confer" private land ownership and the U.S. states it is most definitely not making any claim of "National appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or any other means" as prohibited by the Outer Space treaty.


Private entity: An individual, corporation or consortium of companies, which is not controlled by a sovereign state or government.


All U.S. courts and agencies shall immediately grant recognition, certification and defense to land ownership claims based on use and occupation, of up to the specified size, from any private entity which has, in fact, established a permanently inhabited settlement on the Moon, Mars or an asteroid, with regular transportation between the settlement and the Earth, open to any paying passenger.

For a land claim to be granted such recognition and certification, the settlement must be permanently and continuously inhabited. Deliberate abandonment of the settlement shall be grounds for invalidating land ownership derived from that settlement, but there shall be no penalty for brief unintentional absences caused by accident, emergency or aggression. The location and the population of the settlement may change, as long as there continues to be an inhabited settlement within the claim.

The claimant must commit to consistently make good faith efforts to promptly offer, or arrange for, safe reliable transportation to and from the settlement to all, regardless of nationality, who are willing to pay a fare sufficient to cover expenses and a reasonable profit. If demand for transport exceeds supply, and the claimant is making a good faith effort to increase the availability of transport, it may give preference to passengers and cargo offering the largest financial inducement. It may set appropriate standards of behavior and safety, etc. for passengers and cargo and the use of its facilities, but it may not act in an anti-competitive manner. It may not unreasonably deny landing rights, and the right to transport passengers and cargo, to any other safe and peaceful vehicle willing to pay a reasonable fee for such landing rights.

The private entity that establishes the first such settlement on the moon, and meets the other conditions of this law, shall be entitled to be granted full and immediate U.S. recognition and certification of its claim of ownership of up to 600,000 square miles in a contiguous, reasonably compact shape which includes its base.

Given the greater distance, expense and amount of available land on Mars, the private entity that establishes the first such settlement on Mars shall be entitled to be granted full and immediate US recognition and certification of its claim of ownership of up to 3,600,000 square miles in a contiguous, reasonably compact shape which includes its base.

The private entity that establishes a permanently inhabited base on an asteroid shall be entitled to be granted full and immediate U.S. recognition and certification of its claim of ownership of up to 600,000 square miles in a contiguous, reasonably compact shape which includes its base, or the entire asteroid if its surface area is smaller than 1,000,000 square miles.

Recognized ownership of land under this law shall include all rights normally associated with land ownership, including but not limited to the exclusive right to mine any minerals or utilize any resources on or under the land, as long as it is done in a responsible manner which does not cause unreasonable harm to the environment or other people. If the requirements of this law continue to be met, all rights, privileges and responsibilities shall be immediately transferable by sale, lease or other appropriate means to any other private entity.

As long as the required conditions continue to be met, U.S. recognition documents shall remain valid for 100 years or until the U.S. ratifies a treaty that establishes an international property rights regime which gives comparable reward to privately funded settlement, whichever comes sooner. If, after ten years, these limits prove to have been insufficient to get privately funded settlement efforts started, Congress or some national or international authority it delegates, shall consider whether the maximum size of grants should be enlarged.

The U.S. urges other countries to adopt similar laws and the State Department is hereby instructed to try to negotiate a new multi-lateral treaty, or bi-lateral treaties with individual like minded nations, making the same land claim recognition rules into international law. All rights and privileges conferred by the law shall be available equally to the citizens (individual and/or corporate) of any nation which passes laws or ratifies a treaty offering similar rights to U.S. citizens.

If need be to secure international agreement, the State Department is authorized to agree to treaties which require that all claimants must be consortia which include companies or citizens from several different countries. It can even be required that at least one of the partners in each consortium be from a developing country.

The U.S. pledges to defend recognized extraterrestrial properties by imposing appropriate sanctions against aggressors, whether public or private.

Each successive settlement on a body may receive recognition for a claim of up to fifteen percent less than the preceding one was entitled to. No entity (nor two entities which are effectively under the same control) shall receive recognition for a controlling interest in two land claims on the same body. An entity which controls one settlement may, however, sell services such as transport, to a genuinely independent entity which establishes a different settlement and makes a second claim on that body. In the event it cannot be established which of two settlements on the same body was established first, each may claim seven and one half percent less territory than it would have been entitled to if it were clearly the first of the two. If, in such a case, the land claims of the two settlements overlap, and the claimants are unable to divide the land between themselves through negotiation, the court shall allocate the land between them as it sees fit, before recognizing the claims.

A Wasser, October 9, 2001, "The Space Settlement Initiative", October 9, 2001.
Also downloadable from space settlement initiative.shtml

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