From Rebecca Boyle's article in Popular Science:
Getting to the moon is a noble and ambitious goal for any country, and other nations will probably follow in our footsteps here pretty soon. But private companies won’t go without the promise of profit, and until they do, space will be left unsettled, advocates say. The latest in a drumbeat of pro-colonization comes from the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is advocating the recognition of property rights on the moon or other celestial bodies.
Space settlement activist Rand Simberg says in a new white paper that the U.S. should recognize land claims off-planet, which would allow for legal land titles sort of like the former Homestead Act. Moon land titles could be used as collateral for loans, or sold to raise money to develop the lunar landscape, he argues.
“It would have great potential to kick the development of extraterrestrial resources—and perhaps even the human settlement of space—into high gear,” Simberg writes.
Other experts have weighed in on this before, noting that corporations have settled new worlds in the past. Recognizing property rights in space would fly in the face of the Moon Treaty, established in 1979, which outlaws private property claims. But the U.S. is not a signatory to that treaty.
It is a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which prevents establishment of colonies on celestial bodies. But Simberg and others, including Alan Wasser, chairman of the Space Settlement Institute, argue that it prevents nations from doing the colonizing — not private corporations.
Like Wasser has, Simberg proposes that the U.S. government recognize off-planet land claims from people who meet three criteria: Plans to establish permanent human settlements on the Moon, Mars, or other bodies; provide commercial transportation between the settlement and Earth; and offer the land for sale.
Simberg plans to present his study on Capitol Hill this week. We know he has at least one high-ranking presumptive supporter in Newt Gingrich — it remains to be seen whether he can convince any members who still have actual power.