Sunday, December 28, 2008

Extraterrestrial Real Estate: Unreal Real Estate?

The business model behind extraterrestrial real estate development seems sound. But will it be doomed to failure due to unenforceable legal issues?

By: Vanessa Uy

If you think space exploration is a very, very difficult endeavor given the current state of spacecraft technology, wait till you see the problems confronting outer space / extraterrestrial real estate developers and brokers. And given our current rate of progress – whether technological, sociological, or especially of legal jurisprudence – a space colonizer’s version of the US Homestead Act of 1862 is very, very unlikely to occur within anyone’s lifetime. Even to those born on 2008! But before we can ever so much as worry over an impending extraterrestrial real estate bubble, here are some of the problems born out of the “ontological epistemology” of what is extraterrestrial real estate.

Interests in extraterrestrial real estate can probably trace it’s roots to the time of the “Golden Age of Exploration” – i.e. when Christopher Columbus was busy wooing the Spanish Royal Household to finance his “exploration scheme”. Even though the European powers at the time profited handsomely from the pioneering efforts of explorers like Columbus, their conquered lands were never seen from their palaces. Even from their tallest ramparts with the aid of the most powerful telescopes of the day. In short, their conquered lands lie over the horizon.

Given that since the time humanity acquired the capacity for sentience, the Moon was always visible and laying claim on such far-off real estate prove too tempting not to given the audacity of the human imagination. Which brings us to the two legal jurisprudence pre-requisites of claiming something – namely: corpus possidendi or physical possession and aminus possidendi or intention to possess. And given that possession has always been nine-tenths of the law – which the Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein audaciously demonstrated back in August 2, 1990 by invading defenseless Kuwait – corpus possidendi or physical possession always trumps over mere intention to possess or aminus possidendi. Especially true when it comes to claiming real estate. If real estate possession already has a well-defined legal definition, then what’s stopping the extraterrestrial real estate business from, if you excuse the pun, “getting off the ground”?

The laws of physics and the high-cost of current space travel technology aside, the biggest hurdle faced by the extraterrestrial real estate development business is a legal one – namely the 1967 Outer Space Treaty – which is also a part of the UN Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Treaty. The Article II of the Outer Space Treaty states the prohibition of national appropriation in outer space which fortunately was never violated given the current “state of the art” of our space travel abilities. Even though some persons and quasi-government agencies have tried to file lawsuits against the foremost space exploration entity – namely NASA. Back in July 1997, a group of Yemeni gentlemen filed a lawsuit against NASA for “trespassing” on their ancestral land on Mars – i.e. the Pathfinder spacecraft’s on-going scientific exploration on the Martian surface, and also Dennis Hope’s “Lunar Embassy “. These are just a few examples of the lack of a dispute mechanism when it comes to the equitable settling of extraterrestrial real estate torts.

But when it comes to the legalese that’s holding back the development of outer space real estate for colonization and other commercial activity, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty surely deserves all of the blame. Given that the UN can barely enforce the peace in conflict zones, as a quasi-governmental body it should start relegating the utilization of space to those with the know-how and resources to do it. Not make abstract unenforceable laws that can easily become an encumbrance once technology sufficiently advances. So before we worry about space pirates and other space faring criminal elements, an internationally binding agreement governing the commercial – and peaceful but it should be able to pay itself - utilization of outer space should be drawn up.

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