With His Rover Discovered, Garriott Ponders Lunar Property Rights

Richard Garriott

Space tourist Richard Garriott has posted a short note on his Facebook page musing on the issue of lunar property rights. He owns the Soviet-era Lunokhod 2 rover, which was recently located in photographs sent down by an American orbiter.

Garriott has kindly given me permission to reproduce the piece below. He cautions: “Please note that it was a brief note, and meant in a light, but provocative spirit.”

In 1993 I purchased Lunokhod 2 from the Russian government and corporate owners. This is not disputed. That purchase made me the worlds only private owner of an object on a foreign celestial body. Just that, was enough to make this a very interesting acquisition to me!

Last week a Canadian researcher found the Lunokhod in high resolution photos taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Its tracks and the actual rover can be clearly seen. As it is the only privately owned object on the moon, I have received many calls on the subject, asking all kinds of questions about it, such as why did I buy it, and what do I think it means to own something on the moon.

While, in the long run, only lunar inhabitants will make their own laws, it is fun to speculate about how earth law would translate to lunar property. In that fun spirit, I have offered the following thoughts, and will discuss here also many of the counter thoughts that have been suggested to date.

I have noted the interesting point that I am now the only private individual with a flag or stake on the soil of the moon, and thus at the least I might be able to make some claim to the land beneath it, if not even more territory.

Surely my claim would be far better than the people who are currently selling lunar plots that they have identified only via telescope photographs. Those people have no physical basis of their claim. I at least have a marker on the soil which really belongs to me.

People have countered with the fact that there are international treaties that state “No country will make territorial claims off of the earth. This was agreed to after the USA and USSR had a brief race of sending impacting probes to the moon which scattered flags,and almost began a territorial race on the moon.

But I counter with the fact, that I am not a country! Also there is international convention, that if I were to go to an unclaimed pacific island (of which there are still many) and plant a flag on the beach, international convention is that any part of that new land which I use, is mine. Not the whole island but any part I use.

I could argue that my lunar rover has a lander at one end of its 40 kilometer track and has surveyed the land with probes and cameras along the track, and the lander is at the other end, thus I have used, surveyed and modified the moon in this area. Also my lander is still in active use, it has special mirrors which are actively used to measure earth moon distance to this day.

Some have countered that when I bought the rover, the seller could not make claim to the land as they were bound by the treaty and thus could not sell the land to me.

I can counter that even if that is so, my lander is still mine. It is still in use. and thus I can still make active claim on my own without any need of the transfer of such rights!

It is interesting that very soon, there will likely be numerous private rovers on the moon, due to the Google Lunar X-Prize of which I am on the BOD. There will be bonus prizes for visiting historical landing sites. Perhaps I should offer a bonus for visiting my site, as long as the visitor also agrees to pay me a visitation or parking fee to help institutionalize our lunar ownership rights.

After all, who should make the laws on the moon? America, no. Property owners on Earth, no. I expect those of us who have private property on and ultimately live on the moon, have more jurisdiction than others to describe the laws that apply to our property on our planet!

Of course I make this argument, purely as an intellectual machination, I expect little practical results from it. However, when I made the purchase, I never expected to see much less visit the rover… Now thanks to the orbiter photos I have seen it. Perhaps the X-Prize vehicles will visit it… the odds on people and even myself visiting it, while still remote, is now much less remote than it seemed in 1993! So, we will see where all this leads.

– Richard Garriott