It’s law IN SPACE.
Who Owns the Stuff in Space?
By Emily Calandrelli at TechCrunch
This light-hearted story opens up a Pandora’s Box of serious questions regarding the ownership of foreign planetary rocks; both the ones that fell to Earth and the ones that remain in outer space.
JPL planetary scientist Ron Baalke has had hundreds of people come to him to see if rocks that they discovered were meteorites.
“Less than 1 percent of these cases are actually meteorites.” Baalke said. They’re very hard to find, but there are a few characteristics that differentiate a meteorite from a rock that originated on Earth.
So what happens if someone finds a meteorite in their backyard? Is it theirs?
The answer is…it depends what country the backyard is in. “In the United States, the meteorite belongs to the person who owns the land,” Baalke explained.
But if someone finds a meteorite on public land in the United States, the laws are a bit more cumbersome. According to the Bureau of Land Management “collection of meteorites is limited to certain public lands.” Basically, if someone finds a potential meteorite on public property, they should ask for permission before taking it.
Other parts of the world are flat out against any “finders keepers” meteorite policy. In Australia, for example the Museum Act stipulates that any meteorite that lands in South Australia is “property of the Crown.”
We’ve established that it’s possible to own pieces of planetary bodies on Earth. But who owns the rest of the moon, or Mars, or any of the asteroids? These are important questions for companies like Moon Express, which is working on the technology required to extract valuable resources from the Moon.
Recent legislation, signed by President Barack Obama in November of 2015, cleared things up for many entrepreneurs planning to profit from space-based resources. The Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (H.R. 2262) stated that U.S. companies are entitled to maintain property rights of resources they’ve obtained from outer space.
“The situation of a private company wanting to extract resources from a sovereign-free celestial body is similar to a commercial fishing vessel in international waters. They argue that the boat flies the flag of a country under whose laws it is bound; it is there for peaceful purposes and has a right of noninterference; and while it doesn’t own the water (land) or the fish (resources) in the water, it has a right to the ownership of the fish once extracted.” –Bob Richards
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