Freedom to Explore the Moon: The Outer Space Treaty
Back in 1969, the United States was the first country on Earth to successfully send humans to the Moon. I am sure many of you are familiar with the image of an American Flag on the moon, planted there by the Apollo 11 astronauts that first walked on it. However, despite the symbolic ownership that this flag places on the moon, did you know that there is actually a treaty in existence that guarantees the freedom for any country to explore the moon?
In 1967, a treaty was started that outlined the basic structure that would form international space law. This treaty was known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, although it is now known simply as The Outer Space Treaty.
One of the key concepts found in this treaty is that any space body, such as a planet or moon, cannot be claimed by any specific country or government. In other words, no country can claim any resources of a celestial body because all humankind would have a right to such resources.
The other key aspect of this treaty is the emphases on using resources in space only for peaceful purposes. The use of any body outside of Earth as a base for weapons stations is prohibited. It is also prohibited to place any weapon of mass destruction into orbit around the Earth.
To date, 98 countries have accepted the treaty in full-force, while an additional 27 have signed the treaty but have yet to completely ratify its acceptance.
While such a treaty seems like a good idea, it is impossible to really know whether or not such a treaty will hold any weight in the future as space exploration technology develops and resources found outside of Earth become potentially desirable. After all, many wars have started over land and other resources on our own planet, and it seems unlikely that the same wouldn’t happen as we extend into space as well.