25 November 2009

American Flags and Sovereignty on the Moon

I am listening to the podcast of your interview on The Space Show on 5 Oct 09 and have a question that has always bugged me about the Moon Landing. We see pictures of American flags on the Moon planted by the astronauts at the Apollo landing sites. Because the American flag is used to denote American sovereignty over a US embassy or a ship on the high seas (remember when we re-flagged oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq war in the late 1980s?) doesn't the planting of the American flag at the Apollo sites convey an intent for the US Government to claim (or perceive to have claimed) American sovereignty over those sites, in conflict with the Outer Space Treaty?

It's a good question. There are several things to consider.

First of all, there are a lot of nationally-owned and operated bases in Antarctica, and a lot of national flags flying over them. These are merely symbolic, as claims of national sovereignty over territory are counter to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959.

When the Soviet Union's Luna 2 spacecraft became the first spacecraft to reach the Moon in 1959, It carried a number of medallions depicting the Soviet Union's Coat of Arms, which was analogous to the Great Seal of the United States of America. The international law of outer space being very underdeveloped at the time, there was nothing to prevent the Soviet Union from claiming the Moon on that basis, yet it chose not to make any such claim. It would have been a very weak claim at best. Read the Wikipedia article of the 1932 Island of Palmas case:


It is not enough to see a place, or land there for a time, claim it, and move on. The claim is inchoate. If someone else comes along later, continuously occupies, and makes productive use of the resources of that place, that later person develops the better claim.

According to Article 2 of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, national appropriation is prohibited, whether by claim of sovereignty, use and occupation, or by any other means. The United States never intended to use its flag to denote a claim of sovereignty for national sovereignty on the Moon. At best, the American flags at the Apollo sites are symbols of the functional sovereignty that the United States exercised in the immediate area of the sites for the periods that those sites were occupied. By functional sovereignty, I mean that the United States had jurisdiction over its astronauts and was responsible for their activities, and the United States was entitled to be free of interference during the operation of the Apollo missions, which might imply a right to an undefined area of exclusion, but only for the duration of the surface operations at each site. The United States and Russia (the Soviet Union's primary successor state) own the equipment left on the Moon, but they have no claim to the territories on which they are located. The Antarctic bases have similar status.

03 November 2009

Technoeconomy vs. Technocracy dichotomies is the nugget in Gangale's Book

Saturday, October 31, 2009

From: Spaceports

BOOK REVIEW: Thomas Gangale's recent 2009 book entitled The Development of Outer Space: Sovereignty and Property Rights in International Space Law is a unique niche interest work worth the read for those who are fascinated by the prospects of multiple nations settling human outposts on celestial bodies' off-Earth.

Gangale provides critical yet constructive analysis of other international legal commentators on property rights in space. The primary thesis is focused on the premise that technology development is the barrier to outer space development, not the current state of international space law and treaties.

The book writer reviews the Moon Treaty at length discussing various aspects of property rights and the theory of "the common heritage of mankind." He takes a critical look of the writings of others in this legal niche and enables the reader to consider an alternative view to other commentators. Gangale is specifically critical of The Space Settlement Prize which seeks to propose American federal legislation requiring the recognition of extraterrestrial real property claims as flawed.

Gangale advocates inclusion of China in international space regimes so as to further embed the nation into current space operational legal regimes. He advocates an interplanetary political economy based upon market forces and advocates the adoption of the so-called Regency of United Societies in Space. The author notes that "we have yet to become a true spacefaring civilization; we are merely a space-capable civilization."

There is an acceptance of the technocratic model for initial development of outer space. He notes the need for balance between the "technoeconomy-technocracy" dichotomies associated with a push-pull relationship of space development that this reader found an extremely interesting insight on the rapidly growing national space program efforts around the world and within the American civil and commercial space sectors.

While this book is not for everyone, it certainly is worth the read for anyone having a strong interest in space law and the economic development regimes of the nascent space economy coming rapidly in the 21st Century. To those with the niche interest, I say buy this book. It will make you think.

Posted by JackKennedy at 12:12 PM