The Moon Agreement

The Agreement Governing the Activities of States
on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies

In 1979, a new space treaty was elaborated in order to create a regime for the exploration and use of the Moon and other celestial bodies (including orbits and trajectories). This is the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies also known as the Moon Agreement. It went into force in 1984 for the ratifying countries. The Moon Agreement is one of the five international treaties ruling space activities and it took place during the cold war, a significant period of time after the Apollo Program.

What are the main purposes?

  • Peaceful exploration and use of celestial bodies.
  • Exploration and use of celestial bodies is based under the common heritage of mankind.
  • Prevention of contamination of celestial bodies.
  • Equal access to celestial bodies for all states; states must cooperate with other states, and should share samples obtained with the entire scientific community.
  • Allocation and extraction of resources must be made by an international regime.
  • Banning claims of sovereignty and personal propriety of celestial bodies.
  • The United Nations must be informed of any activities on celestial bodies.

The Moon agreement has been intended to prevent any conflict related to the exploration of space. It prohibits ownership on celestial bodies by private organizations or individuals. Only the international regime is allowed to claim control and use of resources. There are currently only 15 ratifying countries.

Moon Agreement - Signatories and Ratifying states

Moon Agreement – Signatories and Ratifying states

All space treaties are available on the UNOOSA website in several languages.

Why have so few countries ratified the Moon Agreement?

Interestingly major countries with the capability to launch are not present on the list of signatories or ratifying countries such as USA, the Russian federation, China or the European Union.

The Moon Treaty is often not considered as a part of International law. It is also considered as a “Failed Treaty”. It appears this is due to article 11.  Within this article it clearly states that:

“Neither the surface nor the subsurface of the Moon, nor any part thereof or natural resources in place, shall become property of any State, international intergovernmental or non-governmental organization, national organization or non-governmental entity or of any natural person (Art11.3)”.

For some governments, the impossibility to make profit from the establishment of stations on the Moon may inhibit initiatives.

What are the consequences for human exploration of the Moon?

There are both positive and negative aspects to this agreement.

On one side, it is a positive perspective to see that no organization could claim property on Moon territory and make profit from local resources. Why should one nation be allowed to benefit from in-situ resources of the moon, and not another? This treaty aims to prevent problems similar to these.
On the other side, the absence of profit and tangible rewards for this effort could slow down initiatives. Considering the heavy cost and the difficult technical challenge to go to the Moon or Mars, it appears to be expected to use local resources in order to gain from the investment.

Currently, it seems that more and more private organizations are preparing missions to send humans to explore the solar system. This feat would be easier if the law preceded the next giant leap.

For more check out another article on the Space Review website.

Because we are all Born For Space!