The Moon Is for Sale (Some Restrictions May Apply)

VICE News' "Complexify" series takes you down the rabbit hole, to show you why just about everything is more convoluted than you think.
November 23, 2020, 3:21pm

You’ve probably seen the reports about the coronavirus driving people out of the cities to more-open spaces, but the quest for remote real estate is leading some buyers to the most desolate suburb of all: the moon. 

For as little as $25 an acre, sites like LunarEmbassy.com will sell you a deed to a chunk of Earth’s lone satellite. Lunar Embassy owner Dennis Hope says he claimed the entirety of the moon in 1980, and millions of people already have certificates saying they own lunar land. But though moon deeds might make cute novelty gifts, sadly for would-be space settlers, there’s no evidence they’re in any way valid legal documents.

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The international community’s view is that nobody owns the moon, because everybody does. Triggered by the alarming specter of nuclear weapons in space, a 1967 United Nations treaty brought more than 100 nations together to agree that no country could claim any part of celestial bodies, including the moon. Another U.N. treaty in 1979 tried to extend that spirit of intergalactic sharing to use of the moon’s natural resources, though significantly, nations that actually have the ability to get to the moon—like China, Russia, and the U.S.—never signed on. 

Because while conventional wisdom says the moon’s made of green cheese, it turns out there’s something even richer than a wedge of sage Derby up there—it’s called Helium-3, it’s worth about $40,000 an ounce, and some scientists speculate it could be a world-changing future energy source. While the isotope barely exists on Earth, the moon is estimated to hold more than one million metric tons of Helium-3. 

Maybe surprisingly, the other potential big-money moon resource is water. Moon water, found in the form of tiny ice pellets, can in theory be converted into rocket fuel, allowing space-traveling vessels to gas up on their way to farther destinations like Mars. Now governments and private companies are reportedly scrambling to be best-positioned to mine rare earths and other resources, as the race to master the moon blasts off.  

For this episode of Complexify, we launched a probe into the new lunar gold rush, taking one small step toward understanding who really owns the moon. Here’s what we learned.