The Moon
Borders and Boundaries

Does any country own the moon?

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Answer

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Todd L Ross
08/09/2019

Not officially. While the United States planted a flag on the moon, the astronauts' intention wasn’t to claim ownership, and there’s actually an international treaty that forbids any country from claiming the moon (or other celestial bodies) as its own.

Back in the late 1950s, there was significant global concern that a country would eventually try to weaponize outer space. After the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik in 1957, the United Nations General Assembly formed a committee to address the issue.

The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) had members from 24 countries (it now has 92), and negotiated to create laws regarding the use of space. COPUOS assembled the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, signed by major space-faring nations including the United States and Soviet Union, and that treaty expressly forbids private ownership of the moon.

Here’s the relevant language from the treaty:

"Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."

The treaty also establishes important rules regarding the military use of space. Countries cannot put weapons of mass destruction into space, nor can they establish military bases or conduct military exercises on any celestial bodies. That wasn’t really an idle suggestion—in the 1950s, NASA actually considered testing a nuclear missile on the moon, per recently declassified documents.

After signing the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union began sharing scientific knowledge and collaborating on manned flights, so it’s safe to say that the treaty was a landmark moment in space exploration. It’s still an important framework, although some space law experts question whether current advances have rendered parts of the treaty ineffective.

In particular, the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act allows private companies to get the rights of anything they find in space, which seems like a potential violation of the Outer Space Treaty. At this point, however, no country (or private corporation) has claimed the moon or any other celestial body, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.