At times, it seems the super wealthy own the heavens. Now a wealthy video game developer has laid claim to just that. American entrepreneur and space aficionado Richard Garriott purchased the former Soviet Union's Luna 21 lander and the Lunokhod 2 rover for $68,000 at a Sotheby’s space auction in 1993. Space.com reports that he is trying to determine if owning these devices on the moon entitles him to ownership of the property they rest on.
Last week, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter located the Lunokhod 2, sitting clearly on the planet’s surface. It had originally landed on the moon’s surface in January 1973, and it was thought to have crashed into a lunar wall and left covered by moon dirt. Not so, according to the new images from NASA. The photos have left Richard Garriott elated.
As he told Space.com, "It's great to actually have a contemporary photograph of my property on the moon … I think I can truly make the only private, legitimate claim to territory — at the very least around my rover and, potentially, along its point of travel … to give me some actual property rights on the moon."
Garriott, the son of scientist-astronaut Owen Garriott, has personal aspirations of space travel. He flew a self-financed, $35 million trek to the International Space Station in October 2008. Garriott is providing funds for the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon. He hopes to travel to the moon in the future and calls the private space race the quickest way for people to return to the lunar surface.
Garriott admits to Space.com that his assertions are a bit tongue in cheek, but nonetheless he is pursuing property rights on the moon. Garriott believes an international framework already exists to support his territorial claim. Joanne Irene Gabrynowic is director of the National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law and research professor of Law at the University of Mississippi.
She thinks Garriott may have a point. As she told Space.com, "The soundness of a property right depends in large part on the integrity of the documents that memorialize the right … This why property buyers conduct title searches before buying property. They want to be sure that the title is good."
However, according to the Outer Space Treaty of 1966, simply landing on the moon does not guarantee ownership. When Russia and the United States both landed on the moon, they agreed to not lay claims to owning it. Nonetheless, Garriott hopes that his Lunokhod 2 rover deed of ownership will guarantee him to some lunar property rights. And he plans on being gracious about his lunar land. He told Space.com that he’s willing to allow future space travelers to pay a parking fee on his property.
For further reading: Privately owned Soviet moon rover sparks space law talks