Who Owns the Moon?

Can someone own land on the Moon? That was the question before the house at the Luna Philosophie on August 20. Luna Philosophie is the “salon and discussion” hosted by NASA’s CoLab at every full moon in San Francisco. Steve Durst from the Board of Directors of the International Lunar Observatory Association and Dr. William Marshal of NASA Ames each took a crack at the answer. Surprisingly, they both got it wrong! Neither seemed to know that two science fiction clubs already claimed the Moon. (See their video.)

It’s quite appropriate that the meeting happened across the bay from Berkeley, historic home of the Bay Area Elves’, Gnomes’ and Little Men’s Science Fiction, Chowder, and Marching Society. It was the Little Men who, in 1951, filed a claim for mining rights to 2,250 sq. mi. of the Moon. Their claim was widely reported in the media – even by Time magazine. Les Cole told the whole story in Mimosa 18:

Incidentally, filing a claim on the moon was old hat; the Bureau of Mines had hundreds of claims on file. But the Little Men’s claim was different in two ways: we would file before the U.N. — anyone of any sense could see that the U.S. Bureau of Mines had no jurisdiction on the moon — and we would file for a very small piece, not all of the moon; we weren’t greedy…

And then came The Letter. Don [Fabuns] and I worked on that one at some length. It was to be sent to the head of the U.N. Legal Department, and in it, we offered to cede back 85% of the mineral rights, all of any radioactives found (this was 1951, remember, and the romance with them had not yet fizzled), and perpetual U.N. rights to a presence in the triangular area. All the U.N. had to do was recognize our claim.

According to Les, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon his wife, Es, wanted to bill NASA $0.90/hour for parking.

Unfortunately, the governments of the world bigfooted all over the Little Men’s claim in January 1967 when they signed the Outer Space Treaty declaring that the Moon belongs to all mankind.

Science fiction fandom did not take this lying down. At a December 1970 meeting of the New England Science Fiction Association, “[Tony Lewis] showed the moon map from the Nov 1970 issue of Sky and Telescope. Hugo Gernsback crater was identified, as were Wiener, Ley, Verne, Wells, etc. As a result of this increase in cultural knowledge it was [moved, seconded and passed] that the Moon be designated NESFA’s Moon and that the Aerospace Cadets protect it.” NESFAn Harry Stubbs, then a Lt. Col. in the Air Force, was named commander of the Aerospace Cadets, holding the title “Lord of the Wings.” Later, Alan Frisbie and Paula Lieberman were also enrolled as Cadets.

NESFA shieldNESFA has kept a close eye on its property ever since. When there was a total eclipse of the Moon in July 1982, Tony Lewis wrote a letter protesting the unauthorized use of NESFA’s Moon. The club voted him responsibility for preventing the occurrence of any further unauthorized eclipses. In 1984, Chip Hitchcock reported that Walt Disney’s movie Splash abused NESFA’s Moon by having it wax in the wrong direction. Members voted Chip the job of writing their letter of complaint to Disney Studios’ publicity agency, Craig Miller’s “Con-Artists.”

NESFA even managed to turn Moon ownership into a money-raising tool. They created NESFA Realty Trust bonds to finance the purchase of their clubhouse in 1985.

Inexplicably, NESFA never seems to have objected to the practice of selling land on the moon. And they might want to issue a warning to all the entrepreneurs working on spacecraft to send to the Moon who plan to take ownership of the patch they land on, among them Luna Philosophie speaker Steven Durst himself:

[Durst is] linked to one of the Google Lunar [X Prize] competitors, Odyssey Moon, and he said during the talk that he hopes to scratch out his initials on one of the legs of a lunar rover and “claim his acre.”