The Homesteading Press Release

It’s out now, from CEI:

Proposed Law Would Encourage Off-Planet Development and Settlement

Washington, D.C., April 2, 2012 – 150 years ago in 1862, amidst the bloodiest war in our nation’s history, the Lincoln administration had the foresight to pass two historic pieces of legislation: the Pacific Railway Act and the Homestead Act. The first opened up the American West for potential settlers by encouraging railroads to build from coast to coast. The second offered title to 160 acres of land to anyone who was willing to homestead and farm it for five years. Together, after the war, these acts resulted in an explosion of economic growth of the young nation, and the opening of vast new resources for America and the world.

But half a century after the first human went into space, that new frontier remains barren, despite the wealth of potential resources available. Current international policy actively discourages the settlement of space.

Today, the Competitive Enterprise Institute released a new study by Adjunct Scholar Rand Simberg: Homesteading the Final Frontier: A Practical Proposal for Securing Property Rights in Space. Simberg argues that the U.S. should recognize transferable off-planet land claims under conditions such as those outlined by the proposed Space Settlement Prize Act, which Simberg renames the Space Homesteading Act.

A legal private property regime for real estate on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids could usher in a new era of space exploration at little or no cost to the U.S. government. As the study explains, space is rich in valuable resources. But without off-planet property rights, investors have little incentive to fund space transportation or development. Simberg proposes that the U.S. begin to recognize off-planet land claims of claimants who

A) establish human settlements on the Moon, Mars, or other bodies in the solar system;

B) provide affordable commercial transportation between the settlement and Earth; and

C) offer land for sale.

These claim rights would transform human perception of space. Currently, the international community treats outer space as an off-limits scientific preserve instead of what it could be: a frontier of possibilities for exploration, resource development, and human settlement.

Many legal scholars claim that both the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) and the 1979 Moon Treaty outlaw private property claims in space. Simberg argues that the Outer Space Treaty only precludes land claims by sovereign nations—not by individuals or corporations. He also argues that the U.S. should repudiate the Moon Treaty (to which it is not a signatory), which does explicitly outlaw such claims.

Advocates of the expansion of property rights off-planet have commended Simberg for releasing a study that draws attention to the issue and provokes much-needed debate.

“Property rights are at the core of personal freedoms,” said Gary C. Hudson, President of the Space Studies Institute. “There’s no reason to believe that they are any less important off the Earth than they are here on Earth.”

Robert Poole, Director of Transportation Policy at the Reason Foundation, said, “Ten or fifteen years ago, private-enterprise space travel was still the stuff of science fiction, so property rights in space was a non-issue. That is no longer the case, and we’d better start getting serious about such property rights if we’re serious about opening the space frontier.”

Terry C. Savage, member of the Board of Directors of the National Space Society, said, “With his proposal to solve the critical problem of establishing property rights in space, Rand Simberg has produced an extensively researched…and entirely readable…explanation of the history and underlying issues involved, followed by a simple, elegant solution. Anyone who understands the importance of humanity leaving the Earth should read and support this proposal, as I do.”

Mr. Simberg will present his study at a Capitol Hill briefing on Thursday, April 5th at 11 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2325. See here for more information on the briefing and to RSVP.

► Read the full study, Homesteading the Final Frontier: A Practical Proposal for Securing Property Rights in Space.

To interview Rand Simberg, contact Christine Hall at or 202-331-2258.

CEI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group that studies the intersection of regulation, risk, and markets. For more about CEI, visit

100 thoughts on “The Homesteading Press Release”

    1. Alan,

      Hopefully this will die a quiet death so it doesn’t derail the firms developing lunar business models.

      In 1980 I was fortunate enough to take a course on the Politics of the Ocean taught by Dr. James Wang who was a member of the U.S. Delegation to the early Law of the Sea Conference. He described how the entire mess was started by a mining company trying to claim the sea floor off of Central America. In the early 1960 most legal scholars simply assumed that the sea floor was a commons and firms would mine it as they wished, with no regulations or land titles. The analogy was that just as the fish on the high seas belonged to no nation, neither did the sea floor nodules. But one U.S. firm got “greedy” as he put it and dropped markers off the coastal area of Central America claiming one of the nodules fields as its own.

      Needless to say this violation of the existing tradition of the high seas created a firestorm of protest. The result was the first Law of the Sea Conference focus on deciding who, if anyone owned the resources of the deep sea floor. The delegation from Malta organized the emerging nations into the Group of 77 and forced Article 11 into the Treaty. The rest as they say is history. Meanwhile the legal uncertainty created as a result of the firm’s action (16 years of negotiations to create the first treaty, then another 12 years to create the Mining Convention) basically killed the industry deader then a doornail.

      Any attempt for one nation to create or honor land titles on the Moon will likely create a similar firestorm, one that will likely have a similar disastrous impact on the development of space resources as their plans get derailed while the matter is debated. If nothing else it will trigger a rush by the emerging nations to sign the Moon Treaty and place political pressure on larger nations like the U.S., Russia and China to do like wise. Either way the outcome will not be good for firms looking to promote space settlement and develop space resources. So, like I said, hopefully this will be ignored like similar past schemes have been, so the development of space is able to move forward instead of being derailed.

  1. This post was a nice surprise. Read PDF. Thoughts percolating…

    or by any other means

    Typical control freaks. “You can’t have it even if it doesn’t belong to me!”

    This is why they should be ignored. “In the course of human events…”

    I’m also not keen on tying property rights to having to provide transportation. I understand the reasoning. I just emphatically do not agree. Property rights should have the least encumberment as possible. I believe absolute total property rights are the most morally defensible.

    History (and natural law?) says a claim is made by possession. First you claim it, then you defend that claim. The way to strengthen that defense is to have as many people as possible making similar claims.

    Instead we’ve got a debate society trying to figure things out.

    You’ve done an excellent job of summarizing the issues. You’ve stayed away from promoting any mechanism other than to report the settlement initiatives plan.

    Regarding that, they have a scheme to finance transportation. I think they are being short sighted. Transportation is not really the issue. Once people see settlement as a possibility they would line up to buy reasonably priced tickets and the demand for transportation will greatly outstrip the capacity of dozens of providers.

    So giving huge land claims to space companies is a mistake. It will create a disincentive to the ones that actually would drive settlement (which is NOT the transportation providers but the people to be transported.)

    160 acres was about the right size and had the right result. One square kilometer does the same thing today.

    1. It will create a disincentive to the ones that actually would drive settlement (which is NOT the transportation providers but the people to be transported. – you are absolutely correct.

    2. “I’m also not keen on tying property rights to having to provide transportation.
      It will create a disincentive to the ones that actually would drive settlement (which is NOT the transportation providers but the people to be transported. ”

      Doesn’t having a landing area and parties that could land there- be providing transport. By providing, it doesn’t mean having a ticket by a certain launch company to get there
      If someone can pay to land on the Moon- there is a way of getting there- rather then a viewgraph, providing transport.
      Whereas dropping something on the moon at 4000 mph impact isn’t providing transport. Nor landing 1 lb payload.

      Or by actually landing on the Moon, and having the same option to other parties of how you landed on the Moon- is this not providing transport?
      And your landing which kills you is not a way to get there.

    3. Ken,

      Yes, how foolish of them to try to prevent war over nations arguing who opens the Moon.

      1. Is that what they’re doing? I don’t think so. I think they’re ignoring basic reality to assert there control freak nature because the truth is pretty simple.

        You land. You claim a reasonable boundary. You let the lawyers shit all over themselves. Nobody is going to start a war for a few colonist they think will never amount to anything.

        1. Agreed, but it is today. I am astounded that individual claims are so seldom considered. Space is the perfect place to do them. Beyond all this ‘common heritage of all mankind’ crap is the fact that there is a LOT of real estate out there.

          Too much to really fight about. The claimers just need to be organized about it.

  2. If a US court is charged by the US Congress with determining who controls a piece of territory, then the US is exerting sovereignty. It’s just as if the Chinese announced they would be adjudicating land claims in the Nevada desert.

    From the point of view of corporate investors, there’s no real need to change the Outer Space Treaty. Each nation gets to determine what is acceptable activities on their bases, and how big their base is. So, Congress could hand out contracts to private entities to run a “base” to do whatever the entity in question wanted to do.

    Assuming, as I do, that the US Congress would want US labor laws followed and US taxes paid, then our corporation can go find some other country to “contract” for a “base.” We see this at sea, with ships flying flags of convenience. If your US-owned ship is registered in Panama, you pay Panamanian taxes, obey Panamanian labor and liability laws, etc.

    Same thing with extraterrestrial colonies. The corporation goes and finds a willing government, and they are off to the races. In the space case, even landlocked countries can play the game. Since in your proposal, the US is not providing any military guarantees, we’re on the same footing as, for example, Bolivia.

    There are long-term problems with this approach, but for the next few decades it should work. It also accomplishes the key objective of the Antarctic treaty – avoiding a militarized land grab in space.

    1. If a US court is charged by the US Congress with determining who controls a piece of territory, then the US is exerting sovereignty. It’s just as if the Chinese announced they would be adjudicating land claims in the Nevada desert.

      Land claims in the Nevada are usually adjudicated by the state of Nevada or, occasionally, by private arbitration firms. Neither of which are sovereign nations.

      1. Good job on seizing the capillary of the matter.

        Last time I checked, the state of Nevada is one of the United States, making any court sitting under their jurisdiction by definition a “US” court.

        1. You need to check again. State courts are not US courts — by definition.

          I see you didn’t comment on arbitration agencies. You don’t think they’re Federal courts, too, do you?

      2. Edward,

        As usual you miss the key point Chris is making, namely that China has no standing in the matter as China has no sovereignty over the land in question, just as the U.S. has no sovereignty over the Moon. Courts, whither they are U.S., Nevadan State or Chinese don’t handle cases in areas they have no sovereignty over because they have no authority to do so.

        1. Matula,

          As usual, you miss the key point Edwards is making, namely Nevada is its own territory governed by its own laws. The analogy of China having sovereignty over Nevada is a poor analogy considering the Moon has no similar legal construct. If China wants to adjudicate territory on the moon, they can take it up with the residents of the moon. There’s a difference in recognizing one’s territorial rights and taking sovereign control of a territory.

          1. Leland,

            You are missing the point. The U.S. has no sovereignty over the Moon so U.S. has no basis for recognizing lunar land titles. So Rand’s law would be meaningless. Now the U.S. may someday recognize a lunar government, when one is created, and that government would likely grant land titles, but that is a different issue.

          2. The U.S. has no sovereignty over the Moon so U.S. has no basis for recognizing lunar land titles.

            One has nothing to do with the other. Yes, the U.S.A. has no sovereignty over the moon. But yes, they can recognize anything they like.

        2. Right, Tom. That’s why if you commit murder on a cruise ship on the high seas, the US government won’t bring you to trial. No government ever enforces laws outside of its own sovereign territory.

          Do you actually believe that? Or are you just trolling again?

          1. Edward,

            Everyone knows you are the troll, look at how you twisted Chris’s post around.

            But addressing the example you use simply illustrates that the U.S. is responsible for its citizens, both for their actions and to protect them from the actions of other nations regardless of where they are. That is what Article VI of OST is about and why allowing U.S. citizens to claim lunar land under a law like Rand proposes on the Moon would be a violation of the OST, because approving it would be extending U.S. sovereignty to the Moon by “other means”. Its also why if you try to get a launch license to go to the Moon and claim land, or even recover non-U.S. hardware without the permission of the nation that owns it, you will not get a license, because if the U.S. granted it they would be a party to breaking the OST.

          2. In the cruise line case, if the victim is not a US citizen, the US will not conduct an investigation. Instead, the investigation will be conducted by the nation the ship is registered under – Panama or the Bahamas.

            Citizens are not property of the state, but the state is responsible for protecting them, to include investigating their murder, as a way to deter future murders.

            The US can recognize whatever land claims wants, and so can any other nation. The issue comes up when there is a dispute between claimants.

          3. In the cruise line case, if the victim is not a US citizen, the US will not conduct an investigation.


            Citizens are not property of the state, but the state is responsible for protecting them

            Which includes protecting their property.

            The US can recognize whatever land claims wants, and so can any other nation. The issue comes up when there is a dispute between claimants.

            Why is that an issue? If the Duchy of Grand Fenwick steals a communications satellite belonging to a US citizen, there’s little doubt about which government will respond. That does not mean the US government ism asserting sovereignty over geosynchronous orbit.

          4. Rand proposes on the Moon would be a violation of the OST

            I think Rand disagrees if you read the article. Of course, Rand’s interpretation would require legal review by others and neither you or me is qualified for such interpretation. However, I can see the bigger implication of saying that no one can have property rights in space or on the moon. If that’s the case, no one will be able to build a permenant structure on the moon because they would never have a claim to such structure. For certain, nobody could claim minerals retrieved from the moon. In short, there is absolutely no incentive for people to go to the moon. This disincentive ought to be challenged. It is certainly worthy of at least questioning what it truly means.

            However, bad analogies to other legal constructs won’t help the issue.

          5. Edward,

            But as Article VI states, a nation like the U.S. that signed the OST is also responsible for making sure they don’t violate it because if the do the U.S. is liable for their actions. That is why FAA AST exists. But then you probably know that, you just don’t like it.

          6. Ken,

            No, but citizens have a responsibility to obey the laws of their nation and that include treaties like the OST. And nations have an obligation to protect their citizens.

          7. Then that contract is broken Thomas. Nations do not protect their citizens abroad. They don’t even protect them at home. Consent of the governed is a fiction.

            Decent people need no coercion to be decent.

            Here’s a thought experiment for ya. Suppose I happen to have an interstellar space ship (the only one in the universe) and find a garden of eden planet around another star. Is the government going to protect me? Am I still required to follow any law the citizens back home pass? If I do, doesn’t that make me a slave?

    2. Under certain circumstances US courts would recognize Chinese adjudication of Nevada land claims. For instance, if the parties were both Chinese or had ties in China and had had a suit there.

      1. Mrmandias.

        But that would only be because the U.S. had sovereignty over the land in Nevada before it granted a patent to it. And the Chinese involved would be governed by the laws of the U.S. and the state of Nevada since they havd sovereignty over it.

        By contrast the U.S. has NO sovereignty over the Moon. But then if a U.S. firm had its private property on the Moon (i.e. mining rover) damaged by a Chinese rover, under Article VI of the OST, the U.S. would have responsibility to represent and support the U.S. firm in any legal action involving Article against the Chinese government which would have liability (Article VIII) for anything the Chinese firm does that caused “harmful interference” with the U.S. firm’s private property. But that is no different that in civil aviation or maritime law involving private property (i.e. ships or planes).

        1. You are taking it as a given that a sovereign claiming sovereignty over a territory must be the prerequisite to the recognition of legal claims to that territory. That is the assumption in civil law countries, but in common law countries like the United States derivation from a sovereign grant is only one way property can originate. In other words, our legal system sees no necessary logical dependence of property rights on sovereignty. Use and occupation of ‘terra nullis’ is a traditional basis for the origin of a valid property claim in Anglo-American law. By definition, terra nullis is land over which no one has asserted a legitimate sovereign claim.

          The mindset is that property ownership as a fundamental that precedes and is prior to government edict, just the same as with natural rights like freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. So Anglo-American law has no problem with *recognizing* a property right without necessarily claiming national sovereignty, since the property right theoretically existed in natural justice before the nation recognized it and in theory should continue even if the nation ceased to exist.

          1. Mrmandias,

            But Common Law only applies where there is no Statue Law. The OST as a treaty is part of U.S. law, so the provisions of Article II and Article VI do apply. So your argument would apply if the U.S. had not signed the OST. But it has and so any plans for claims to Celetial Body need to comform to it.

            But also note that the provision in Article II only applies to Celestial Bodies, which legal opinion at the time agreed were bodies insitu, that is in their natural place. When the bodies are moved by human action from their natural place they are no longer insitu and no longer Celestial Bodies. That is why meteoriods belong to the entity that collects them in space. Its also why a claim to a NEO would be valid IF its been demonstrated that NEO has been
            moved by artificial means from its natural orbit.

  3. The U.S. pledges to defend recognized extraterrestrial properties
    by imposing appropriate sanctions against aggressors, whether
    public or private. It pledges never to allow the sale to U.S. citizens
    of any extraterrestrial land which was seized by aggression.

    What if the claim jumper is not nominally subject to US jurisdiction, and has no intent to sell the seized property to such a person? What sanctions would they be subject to?

    1. This is why a settlement charter with thousands of members has the power to defend it’s claim. It’s also a reason for doing this on mars first, rather than the moon. For example…

      Suppose hundreds of people are on mars with different groups doing their own thing. Only one group is using a settlement charter with small individual claims slowing spreading from a first landing site. Along come a corporation that makes a claim the size of Alaska with our hero’s contained within. What do our heros do?

      They ignore them and just continue developing their claims. Thousands of reasonable claims will ultimately win against a few unreasonable claims.

  4. The UN is not needed. States will only care that their Charter organizations have negotiated agreements with each other. It’s in the Charter organizations’ best interests (and their colonists) to get this negotiated before touchdown. The colonists will be very occupied with achieving a level of settlement self-sufficiency, they don’t want injurious conflicts with their incoming new neighbors.

    A possible workable regime: exclusive homesteads, exclusive “properties” critical to the colony survival, negotiated exclusive economic zones between and surrounding the colonies, and open-access wildlands everywhere else.

    An economic business for the original colonies, once they have figured out how to make a sustainable settlement, is to build and sell new ones to new immigrants.

  5. No nation or man can lay claim to any real estate without the expressed threat or actual use of force. The ONLY way to revoke a claim of land held by a man living on said land is through force.

  6. I always liked the idea of a homestead act for space. Although like others I dont see why you need the huge grants to the guys that provide transportation. If you have smaller individual grants, those settlers will want to get there to live on their claims, and with their demand, somebody will have a free market reason to supply the transport to get them there. You might also allow individual settlers to sell a portion of their title, less than 50%, to help pay for their transportation to the settlement site. That will give the transportation guys more incentive, and the resulting lower cost would produce more settlers.

    1. They are not “grants to the guys who provide transportation.” The claimants to not have to “provide transportation.” They have to ensure that transportation is available at a reasonable price. That is a necessary, but by no means sufficient condition.

      1. Ensuring transportation while not providing it sounds like a good way to create a mess. Who gets sued if all the transportation companies go bust?


        1. Damned fingers. OTOH, Paying passengers provide a market even if all do go bust others can take the place without the huge claimant being on the hook.

        2. “Ensuring transportation while not providing it sounds like a good way to create a mess. Who gets sued if all the transportation companies go bust?”

          To get this rather large land grant, one has to transportation to the land.

          And the party that the land is granted can sell to anyone, any party that buys a parcel of that larger land area has no set obligation [other whatever terms it may be bought under- such things could include any number of promises, which whatever they are may lead to lawsuit [any agreement could lead to lawsuit].
          But in terms of land grant from govt, I see the potential for lawsuit regarding transportation- neither govt or grantee is making any promise about the future, but instead is dependent upon what is available at time grant was given.

          1. I see the potential for lawsuit regarding transportation-
            I do not see.. the potential for lawsuit regarding transportation-

          2. in terms of land grant from govt

            THEY DO NOT OWN IT.

            The govt. has zero, nada, zilch, authority to grant any of this land.

            Land, historically and by legal precedent is claimed by possession.

            No signatory of the OST can claim any land so they can’t grant it to anybody.

            They can recognize the title of others.

          3. ken anthony
            April 3, 2012 at 7:34 am

            “ terms of land grant from govt..”

            ‘THEY DO NOT OWN IT.

            The govt. has zero, nada, zilch, authority to grant any of this land.’

            Grant or recognize or whatever legal term.

            They do have authority to pass laws which affect how US courts deal with
            legal issues in regarded lunar property.

            The point is if some American company started mining lunar water, *some kind of law would evolve”. By Congress passing this such thing Rand is proposing it helps reduce uncertainty.
            And is likely that “formation of law” would kicked up to the supreme court, where result be that the courts have ask the legislative branch to pass a law to clarify their intent.

            As Wright seems to suggest, a State, could instead pass such a law- and if you want 50 versions these kind of laws perhaps that would be better.

          4. Grant or recognize

            There is an extremely important distinction.

            it helps reduce uncertainty

            That’s not the only goal.

            To elaborate… It’s important not to start with false assumptions. That is what leads to uncertainty. The govt. can provide legitimacy to title holders by recognizing those legal titles. They can’t grant anything because their should be no assumption of govt. ownership.

            Uncertainty can be mitigated by following historical legal precedent. Claims are made by possession. Small reasonable claims made by members under a settlement charter would have the greatest legal defense. Other claims would be shown as unreasonable by comparison.

            We have got to break away from this unspoken assumption that govt. owns people.

  7. On more than one occasion I have come within a hair’s breadth of writing Elon Musk and modestly proposing that he declare the Republic of Luna when he finally gets to the moon. He then announces that any nation attempting a landing will be repelled by force.

    Faced with this intolerable repudiation of the OST, the U.S. (or the UN, or some other country) sends military forces to the moon to permanently occupy the secessionist claim and prevent other “rogue groups” from doing anything similar.

    Result: permanent lunar settlement, Grand Duchy of Fenwick style. Call it “The Moon That Roared”.

  8. If Elon or anyone else does anything like what you mention on Luna or elsewhere, they should name it “The Principality Sealand”, in honor of its wildly successful predecessor.

  9. It’s just numbers and risk. Suppose Elon is wrong by ten and it cost $5m per person to get to the surface of mars with 2 yrs. of supplies. Let’s pick a number for the size of an individual settlement charter claim, say 3 sq. km. or 3 million sq. m. with a mortgage obligation of selling 2 million sq. m. over 20 yrs. The bank gets the unsold property on default. Mortgage holders have a strong incentive not to default since selling developed property is a good income for them. The construction companies get their profits.

    That’s $2.50 per sq. m., but the bank wants a profit so let’s give them ten times that or $25 per. Plots sold can vary in size. The mortgage holder would have to pay the bank $25k for every 1000 sq.m. plot they developed and sold.

    Each plot sold would roll over the material and labor cost for the next plot. The bank and mortgage holder get their cut of a reasonable profit.

    The only obligation on the transport company is to figure their own profit at $5m per passenger.

    1. Oh, and the new guy wanting to go to mars doesn’t have to come up with a down payment. The bank get’s the down payment on the lot they buy from a previous colonist.

      1. Since the bank gets $45m per person (using this scenario) they have a strong incentive to find new wannabe martians as well. SpaceX, Bigelow and others are going to have to license out their technology to all the transport companies wanting to fill this huge and growing market.

        Once martian babies get old enough to enter the market things really begin to take off.

  10. All very well, but how are all these pioneers on Mars and the Moon supposed to economically justify their presence there? What resources exist there that can be economically exported back to Earth at a price that can compete with prices already in place on Earth?

    The wild west was able to produce agricultural produce that had an international market. What resources exist on the Moon or on Mars that are of an economic value that exceeds the enormous cost of getting them back to the home market?

    Until we discover an answer to that problem, there will be no homesteading.

    1. LCROSS found surprising amounts of metals–including gold–in Cabeus Crater, a polar cold trap. Granted, they issued an errata to their original Science article that reduced the observed concentrations by a factor of five, and they are still no doubt way too high, but still, reasonable calculations suggest that the concentrations could rival the best deposits on Earth. This is a market potentially worth $100 billion USD/year. These metals are not volatile at typical Lunar high temperatures; presumably, since they have a relatively high conductivity, there is some electrostatic separation going on with the long recognized electrostatic dust transport that results from the terminator (day-night boundary) moving slowly over the surface of the Moon each month. Once the particles of metal land in a permanently shaded crater, they stay put and get concentrated. That’s why the proposed Act is so audacious. The land grants are so big, they would contain all the polar cold traps on each pole.

  11. What resources exist there that can be economically exported back to Earth?

    Nothing (well, a very few things.) The assumption in this question is wrong.

    Let’s work backwards to shine a light on things. Assume their is a self sufficient colony on mars (because it does have all the raw materials needed.) Would it not have it’s own internal economy? Well, of course, that’s just our starting assumption. So first, why does it need to export anything? It doesn’t. However, it will have an economy connected to earth. Businesses look for funding to expand. Why would it be any different on mars?

    The wild west was able to produce…

    So what? Are you seriously trying to say nobody would live in the wild west if they didn’t have something to export? That’s ridiculous. Sure, it’s nice to have something to export and it’s does significantly increase growth. But to say nobody would live there without it (I guess the Indians and mountain men were nobody?)

    But the fact is they have significant resources. Not just land, but people with inventiveness and all the mineral resources they need to use that creativity.

    Because, the mind is where value exists.

    Send Jews. They figured out how to be successful in the only scrap of desert in the middle east that isn’t sitting on an ocean of crude. Their exports come from their brilliant minds.

    1. Self-sufficiency isn’t a good assumption unless you exclude capital–things like nuclear plants, various kinds of fabricators, high-tech products, and so on, will have to be imported from somewhere. Its possible that earth side governments and philanthropies will simply supply these for philanthropic reasons–as they ought. But relying on large scale and continued philanthropy sounds pretty risky to me.

      1. Self sufficiency happens when you have enough people with diverse skills. That doesn’t have to be a very large group. Not everything we take for granted is required for life. Those extra things will develop over time.

        The first (dozen) and second (3 dz.) groups are fully supplied for much less than a billion a year.

        They figure out what is necessary for others to colonize. Those other colonists are self sustaining from day one and determine the rate life support expands for those following to arrive.

      2. Also, imports from earth will come with the colonists as carry on luggage as part of their weight allotments. This becomes a source of income for them when they arrive.

  12. While there is a lot of extraneous discussion here the real point was said in your first paragraph…

    Without [clear off-planet property rights], it is difficult to raise funds for extraterrestrial ventures…

    Funding is primary. Property rights are the key.

    The problem is this idea that property rights have to be recognized in one fell swoop. It’s not all or nothing.

    Start with the fact that nobody owns or has authority over unclaimed ET real estate. No amount of political wrangling changes that (unless some government does come along and begins to physically assert those rights.)

    The historical precedent is that first somebody asserts a property claim by physical possession, then later the courts agree it belongs to them. Yes, they’re are often disputes, most of which are covered by that old ‘nine tenths of the law’ cliche.

    Recognition is a separate issue, but it does go a long way toward making financing more likely. The problem is, until actual physical claims are made, it’s like having sex with yourself. The results are not that satisfying.

  13. I thought the CEI was about free markets and limited government. This proposed act is neither. First of all, the act would give huge land grants big enough to lock up the resources of either polar regions volatile deposits in the polar cold traps: (a) this is pure pork; (b) it establishes monopoly control over the volatile deposits. At the same time it establishes onerous requirements on the private entity: (c) it’s supposed provide transportation; (d) this transportation must not be unreasonably priced; (e) I guess it’s the government that gets to decide what’s a reasonable price and a reasonable profit (f) it requires the claimant to sell land, but, apparently, the claimant gets to retain monopoly control over the volatile deposits. Then it’s the US government that gets to adjudicate between competing claims: (g) note that the competing claimants need not be US citizens or corporations; (h) the territory is not claimed by the US; (i) thus this represents a radically new expansion of power on the part of the US government.

    1. I’m so glad Warren, that you’ve made these points. I haven’t expressed it well but the main reason for suggesting a settlement charter where only individuals can make a single reasonable claim with absolute and total property rights is because it results in limited government and free markets. Govt. can’t own land, only people. Not being able to tax property or take it away limits governments. There can be no welfare state when there is no state to produce serfs. Giving every person a reasonable claim by possession means wealth is available for free markets to flourish preventing a company town scenario where resources are controlled centrally. There are no ‘public services,’ all those services can be supplied contractually as they are in many small rural communities in this country. Should it develop into something else over time, so be it, but at least they get a start at freedom.

      The only problem is my plan won’t work. It requires too many colonists to follow the first too soon. The only way it would work is if people on earth that aren’t going to mars and so can’t make a direct claim could purchase land (either as a novelty or for speculation) from those that can, thus adding the buying power of the entire world to the funds needed for exploitation. Those that do purchase land from martians have the same total and absolute property rights. Nobody, including martians for eminent domain, can take it away until they voluntarily sell it.

      It’s the political result of our choices that has been foremost in my mind. Everything I’ve seen offered by others gives too much control to the control freaks.

      1. Govt. can’t own land, only people.

        Hmm, Freudian slip? I meant, the settlement charter would only allow individual people to make claims, not corporations which would have to get their land by purchase from those claimants. Govt. could only get land if people unwisely sell it too them. Those not members of the settlement charter could of course do anything they like. Members of the settlement charter only provide legal cover for themselves.

        It’s on earth where govt. owns people. We should change that.

        1. Ken,

          [[[It’s on earth where govt. owns people. We should change that.]]]

          You must live on a different Earth then the rest of us… Or do you believe that individuals having to obey the laws created by legislators elected by the voters is ownership?

          1. Inalienable rights. Does this phrase mean anything to you Thomas?

            do you believe that individuals having to obey the laws created by legislators elected by the voters is ownership?

            Very often Thomas, yes. Do you skip over any news story of govt. absurdity? You know, like spitting on your lawn makes it a wetland so you can’t erect some ugly garden gnome?

            The fact that you can, with your careful choice of words, suggest that we aren’t slaves to such a degree today compared to during the revolution… well the whole idea of having a revolution and forming our own country for the purpose of individual liberty is just silly.

            “Give me liberty or give me death.”, Puhlease, what a drama queen.

            “When in the course of human events…,” give it a break, we have a legislative process here. King George is the govt. and he’s only trying to help.

            Thomas, you’re a fish that doesn’t believe in water.

          2. Ken,

            You ignore the role of courts and elected officials. Both are the solutions to the problems you mentioned. Yes, like the Founding Fathers you have to be involved in the political process, but that’s simply a given in a society.

            And BTW, if you follow the news the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the couple in the Wetlands case and against the government bureaucrats, so the process does work.

          3. Thomas, you’ve pointed out on many occasions (and this is part of your charm) that where ever you go, the government maintains control of it’s citizens by it’s laws. The word for this is slavery. You insist there is no escape.

            Did I mention “when in the course of human events…” That’s the escape.

    2. Warren,

      You must remember, to New Spacers “free markets” means government subsidies, exorbitant payments by the government for services by New Space firms and laws passed by the Federal government like the ones that Rand is proposing that would make New Space firms “wealthy”extraterrestrial land barons…

      So although the New Spacers may have mastered the ability to talk about free markets and free enterprise while holding their hand out to Uncle Sugar they haven’t learned the critical skill of greasing palms that was so central to the success of the pioneer cattle, railroad and mining barons 🙂

      1. lol!

        You know, if you think about it, the OST as it stands is really the most free market regime you could imagine! There is nothing stopping anybody from going up there and reaping whatever that’s up there that is worth reaping.

        There are no regulations. There are no restrictions. Whatever you pick up is yours for the keeping. Everybody is welcome. Everyone is equal. It is a Libertarian paradise under the current regime, aka, the Outer Space Treaty.

        Meanwhile, the Space Settlement Prize Act is a form of National Socialism! Grant all the resources to 1 or 2 corporate know-it-alls so everything can be centrally planned, complete with instructions from Earth….

        Bottom Line: The OST is great! IT’S A FREE FOR ALL!!!

        1. Only someone who hasn’t actually read the paper, or has trouble comprehending clear English would write such a gross mischaracterization of the proposal.

          Of course, I’ve read a lot of ignorant discussion of it, both here, and at Space Politics and NASASpaceFlight. It’s par for the Internet.

          1. Sir, I apologize: “National Socialism” is an unfortunate choice of words. I went back and carefully reread your paper. And I must say that I stand by my claim that if this proposal were carried forward, it would constitute a form of corporatist welfare/socialism: one or two corporations will be granted control of essentially all of the Moon’s easily accessible resources, but on the condition that the corporation serve the best interests of the Moon volk by ensuring that affordable transportation be provided for would be settlers, promising to sell lebensraum to said settlers, etc.

            Moreover, the land grant is not given for use and occupation: there is no way you can construe a single hab module as a use an occupation of a territory the size of Mongolia (or the entire United States of America in the Martian case). Indeed, the corporation obtaining the grant need not do anything but keep a few people alive in order to obtain control over half the Moon’s resources.

            While ostensibly there to support “homesteaders”, what it in fact establishes is a rentier class of Earthlings that don’t have to do anything to collect their rents.

            And how will all this actually help promote Moon mining? Let’s say Shackleton Energy could somehow scrape together enough cash to set up a shoestring settlement on the South Pole. Meanwhile, Rio Tinto figures out there’s a $100 billion USD worth of gold in Cabeus Crater. Now they’ve got to go to Bill Stone and somehow cut a deal with him before they go develop Cabeus.

            How is that an improvement over the current situation? Mining the Moon is going to be expensive enough without having to deal with absentee landlords.

            Speaking of whom, what happens when they go broke? Well, I guess all their land gets confiscated, or at least ceases to be recognized. Then what? Does it get auctioned off? What about all the land speculators on Earth? Do they lose their “investment” because Bill Stone went broke?

            But the richest part is your claim that this is somehow a libertarian way to develop space! If you really believe that, you are only fooling yourself. That, it is not.

            Really, the current legal regime is very libertarian. As quoted in the paper: ““The Outer Space Treaty does not contain any principles that would regulate economic activities for the purpose of exploring and exploiting the natural resources of outer space…” As if this is a problem! If you’re a libertarian, WHAT MORE COULD YOU POSSIBLY WANT?!?

            Any land you want up there is free for the taking as long as you do it the old fashioned, Lockean way, as opposed to the old fashioned, American, robber railroad baron way: by mixing your labor with the land.

            Any mine you construct is a “construction” according to the OST. It’s yours. You may not own the ground underneath it, but you can still exclude others, just as NASA excludes people from a 40 acre zone around the Apollo 17 site. Moreover, as noted in the paper, the installation can be extended somewhat by declaring a reasonable “safety zone” around the site. By judicious deployment of equipment, survey cores, and navigational beacons, a place like Whipple Crater, one of the largest cold traps in the north polar region, could be controlled by a single mining company. That’s fair because they’re actually mixing their labor with the land. What’s not fair is granting the entire north polar region to some bloke who’s only contribution is to stay alive….

          2. Warren,

            You are exactly on target, and if you want to see an example of how such land grants could be abused you don’t need to go any further then looking at what actually happened under the railroad land grant program that Rand holds up as a shiny example…


            [[[Three quarters of all railroad grant lands were eventually gathered under the four railroads: the Northern Pacific (40 million acres), Santa Fe (15 million acres), Southern Pacific (18 million acres), and Union Pacific (19 million acres). In 1995 and 1996, after more than a century of acquiring and consolidating dozens of smaller railroads, these four railroads were merged into two: the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the Union Pacific (which had acquired the Southern Pacific).

            The railroad land grants covered ten percent of the continental United States, yet because of the corridor and checkerboard patterns of the grants, their influence extends considerably beyond that. One historian estimates that railroad corporations controlled the settlement of a third of the country, and an even greater portion of the American West, where most of the land grants were located. Even today, the largest land owners in many Western states are still the land grant railroads and their corporate heirs. Much of the land has been sold to or spun off into new corporations, and the legacy of the nineteenth century railroad land grants is a remarkable and troubling concentration of land ownership and exploitation of natural resources which was never intended by Congress. Control of the grant lands has and continues to translate into economic and political power for the corporations which control them.

            As with most of the public lands disposal, the railroad land grants were rife with pork barrel politics and fraud. Actions committed in order to evade the provisions of the land grant, or to defraud the government, the public, and/or railroad shareholders, included:

            Bribery of federal and local officials.
            Threats and violence against officials, competitors, settlers, and jury members.
            Hiring dummy entrymen to evade the public sale provisions of the land grants.
            Stock watering (selling more stock than the corporation is worth) and other forms of financial manipulation and fraud.
            Illegal bankruptcy proceedings.
            False advertising in land sales.
            Diverting construction funds to real estate and non-rail ventures.
            Discriminatory rail rates which discriminated against farmers and other small shippers.
            Price-fixing, illegal kickbacks, and other sweetheart deals with interlocked corporations.
            Failure to survey and patent grant lands in order to evade property taxes.
            Holding of grant lands for real estate speculation and other non-rail purposes.
            Stealing timber from adjacent public lands.
            Poor rail service and abandonment of branch lines.
            Monopolistic agribusiness practices: railroads controlled farmers’ transport, grain terminals, mortgages and other loans, and often inspected farmers’ books to monitor their profits, and set their rates at “whatever the traffic could bear.”
            Control of regional economies and the destruction of small businesses.
            Deforestation and loss of biodiversity.
            Toxic waste from mining operations.
            Corporate-government exchanges of checkerboard grant lands for yet more public lands.]]]

            Once again the myth of the wild west simply doesn’t match the reality. Which is why anyone to expect that a similar program for the Moon and Mars would turn out any differently is as much a fantasy as the wild west frontier that space advocates insist on using as their model for space development.

          3. So Thomas, methinks you would support my settlement charter then?

            Human nature is what it is. Distributed power, with it’s checks and balances, is the only protection.

          4. Ken,

            You idea has some merit. The problem is you are not thinking like a Martian, to paraphrase Issac Asimov from his great story the Martian Way.

            Land has value on Earth because we grow crops in it. You won’t be growing crops on your land on Mars, you will be growing them in your greenhouse which will be above the land to avoid it sinking into the permafrost when you heat it to draw the water out. So why waste time with land ownership issues?

            The value you create will not be in the land, it will be in the facilities you build, facilities that will draw on the Martian atmosphere for resources or using material from the Martial rocks, so it doesn’t really matter if you own the land, merely that you have access to the atmospheric and rocks. That is already legal under the current regime of the OST, while Article IX of the OST already prevents anyone interfering with your facilities. As for the laws governing your facilities, they will simply be the laws of the nation they are registered in, so find a good flag of convenience. But in terms of land titles, that will limit your facilities to what happens to on the land you place them on, an unnecessary constraint that will probably prove far more trouble then its worth. Far better to just bring to the facilities what is needed from where’s its available and skip the problems of land ownership. As least that is how a Martian settlers will look at it…

          5. Land has value on Earth because we grow crops in it.

            You mean, because you can produce on it. Land primarily has value because you can trade it or secure a loan on it. But you can’t do that without title.

            Thomas Sowell has identified this as the number one issue regarding national wealth. Number two doesn’t even show up on the radar.

            So what you’ve done Thomas is throw away the number one engine of wealth.

            If the OST already has it covered, where’s the gushing flow of financing?

    3. Your points (g) through (i) are in error. US courts already resolve property claims, disputes between non-nationals, disputes involving non-US territory, and so on. Property law is an increase in liberty from claim jumping and settling property disputes through personal violenced.

      1. I’m not talking about gunboat diplomacy! 😉

        I challenge you to name a single case where a US court settled a real estate property dispute among non-US complainants involving non-US territory. You’re a lawyer: it shouldn’t be too hard for you to dig up such case law.

  14. Hi Ken

    Thanks for your response. I think that the wild west of the mid 19th century is a great example of Terra Nullius that we can learn from. The big difference, in my mind, is that any farmboy from Georgia with no prospect of aquiring local land, could save a few year’s salary to buy a workhorse and wagon and basic farming implements and go stake a claim on the frontier. With a lot of sweat equity (and a good rifle) he could establish a homestead and feed himself and his family. He would be, in effect, a subsistance farmer until such time as the railway arrived, after which he could take his holding beyond subsistance, to providing a surplus to connect with the global market.

    The main point, however, is that he could feed himself and his family, trade with the town a couple of day’s ride away for other supplies he needed and get by for a few years, all on the back of his own hard work and a couple of years saving back in civilisation for the the means to take on this venture.

    With all the will in the world, I can not conceive of any young poor homesteader (for who but the young and poor would take such a leap into the unknown) establishing himself on Mars without tens of millions to get him there. And how would he sustain himself while waiting for the infrastructure to catch up with him? And back to my original point, who would back him with the tens of millions needed to get him there, (because obviously he needs a backer because he cannot save this himself as his ancestor of the 19th c could) without the prospect of a return based on significant resources available there.

    Without significant and seriously valuable resources in place, of which we are currently completely ignorant, there is no economic incentive for investors to sponsor homesteaders to go there, and the cost is exponentially too high for the young and adventurous to finance themselves.

    So, sorry, I can’t see it happening by means of homesteading. Now, thats not to say that national governments won’t do it for prestige. But like the Apollo program showed, without an economic reason, it will not sustain itself past the next slowdown in the sponsoring county’s economy.


    1. MarbellaBoy,

      Except that the U.S has legal sovereignty over the American wild west of the mid-19th Century (1862) so it could do what it wished with the land and no other country had a say in it. The U.S. has no such sovereignty over the Moon and there are some 200 odd countries that would object to the U.S. acting like it did.

    2. Well said MB, my response…

      there is no economic incentive for investors to sponsor homesteaders

      But if there were, then they would, right? It’s all about risk vs. reward (not all risks being easily quantifiable.) If we can find a way to lower the risk and increase the reward at some point we pass a tipping point where investors would take the plunge. So far, no controversy. Now let’s rephrase Rand’s statement.

      With property rights it is less difficult to raise funds for extraterrestrial ventures

      Because recognition of property rights lowers risk. Which, by itself, is not likely to open the investment floodgates. So we have to go further.

      In the near future $50m per person to the surface of mars seems the likely cost with some (Elon most notably) saying the cost could come down to about $500k per person. Somewhere in that two magnitude range the reward potential changes dramatically. As a matter of fact, some people would begin to be able to self finance at that lower point.

      how would he sustain himself while waiting for the infrastructure to catch up with him?

      We can’t send colonists until on site research has been done. This is one of the reasons I think it’s a mistake to send just a handful of researchers at first. I believe it is affordable to send a dozen on the first landing. The cost of keeping a dozen alive, without any ISRU at all, is low enough to be affordable indefinitely. Once they have ISRU water, the same resources needed to keep a dozen alive will keep four dozen alive. So I say we send three dozen more for the second landing after that first milestone is reached. Many hands make light work and we are going to need all of them to figure out how to actually live on mars using just local resources. My belief is four dozen can be kept alive indefinitely at an affordable cost. Also, it may take more than ten years with even four dozen before we can be comfortable that colonists can then be sent. So understand, while I think we can start planning today, time will be needed.

      So assume we’ve figured that out. Now we are finally at the point of considering financing. My example above gives the bank ten times their investment. Is that enough reward? I suspect, once they see the risks have been mitigated to a reasonable level, they’d probably be satisfied with much less than that.

      Then MB, it’s just a matter of having a little faith in humanity. Things start where they start and build from there. Pournelle points out that power is the key. Without the idiots here on earth that hold us back, nuclear power on mars will finally show what it can do. Then living martian style will become something to envy.

    3. The American west wasn’t terra nullis. Your best analogy would be to early Oregon settlement and to frontier settlement in the colonial and Revolutionary time period. In both instances, there were settlements that preceded government assertions of sovereignty (or even recognition of property claims).

      1. Mrmandis,

        Yes, and those settlements created problems that needed to be settled by treaties between the nations involved.

          1. No, it was the settlement’s problem which is why they demanded that their “nation” solve the problem.

          2. That would be the statist that whined that the nanny state should fix there problem. The rugged individualist didn’t demand anything. They just worked hard to keep what was theirs. Of course I’m being generic. I couldn’t really find any specific examples from your comments.

            Defense of claim can be nasty or civilized. When a community organizes behind specific rules it can be very civilized. Nasty happens when unreasonable claims are made. Giving even one percent of a whole planet to one organization seems unreasonable to me. Unless we’re talking about a small rock.

    4. With all the will in the world, I can not conceive of any young poor homesteader (for who but the young and poor would take such a leap into the unknown) establishing himself on Mars without tens of millions to get him there. And how would he sustain himself while waiting for the infrastructure to catch up with him? And back to my original point, who would back him with the tens of millions needed to get him there

      I’m sure the Company itself will loan them the millions of $$$ they need. But since already in debt, they’ll have to live in Company dormitories and get their groceries from the Company store, and pay for the very air they breath when they’re not working, since the Company isn’t going to pay crap since it has a monopoly and there’s no competition for experienced workers, so they’ll never get out of debt, have to stay their for life.

      The Company will try to locate some gold or platinum while being financed by land speculators. But if the bubble collapses before the $100 billion Mother Lode is found, then the Company itself will be broke. So the Company won’t be able to afford to send everyone back to Earth, even if they wanted to.

      Then US taxpayers will be on the hook to bring back the marooned moon miners at a cost of billions of USD….

      1. The company town is the real danger. If only somebody would come up with a plan, say a settlement charter, that only allows individuals to make claims.

      2. Warren,

        That sounds like Venus in Robert Heinlein’s Future History series story “Logic of Empire” which in term was based on British colonial experience with indenture servants in the American colonies, the Caribbean and under the British East Indian Company.

        BTW the American colonies were started as grants with indentured labor in hock to the corporations as part of the settlement mix along with slaves. I would hate to think that was the future of space settlement…

    5. I wonder if the authors realize that a mathematical consequence of their proposal is that it will lock up 3/4 of the Moon and 1/2 of Planet Mars as pristine scientific wilderness areas just like Antarctica! 😉

      1. “I wonder if the authors realize that a mathematical consequence of their proposal is that it will lock up 3/4 of the Moon and 1/2 of Planet Mars as pristine scientific wilderness areas just like Antarctica! ”

        That wouldn’t much of problem. The problem is it wouldn’t get to that point.
        There doesn’t seem to me much a problem giving 3.6 million square miles on Mars- allow 36 million square miles. But make one region- one chunk of land which was a 1/4 of the planet [most northern of southern hemisphere or a chunk near equator. Or band going from pole to pole. But a chunk of land and not selection of land the adds add to 3.6 or 36 million square miles of land area.
        With the Moon 600,000 square miles is fatal problem if one gets select the land that adds up to 600,000 square miles. And if require connection then one run 100 mile wide “road” from North to South Pole and can still get both poles. And if you only allow one pole to be included, then instead 1 you need 2 parties to capture both poles- basically no other land is needed.
        So I would suggest that if you to “give away 600,000 square of the Moon- it fine if that land can’t include either of the polar regions.

        As your point about “3/4 of the Moon and 1/2 of Planet Mars” I before reach that point one would probably get an independent government on the Moon and/or Mars, and thereby render the issue moot.

        I just realized [or remembered:)] that on Mars one can get as much solar energy as you get on Earth.
        At Earth distance you get 1360 watts per square meter and Mars distance around 600 watts per square meter. But Earth atmosphere blocks about 300 of the 1360 watts of the energy. On Mars in the summer in polar area, you will get about 600 watts per square at the surface, but get this energy without interruption of a nite. In summer you get constant daylight and constant solar energy. So per day [24 hrs] in summer at pole you get 24 times 600 watts or 14.4 Kilowatts. Which more than you can get anywhere on earth per day. if average over Mars year- it’s half [7.2 Kilowatts average per day] That average is much better than anywhere in Germany or Canada, and even most regions in US [though not more than Southwest US]. And if live “bipolar”:) you easily beat average anywhere on Earth.
        Mars year: 686.98 Earth days. So move every 22 months. And with axis of 25 degrees, you be around 65 degrees north and south. And could fly from ending summer light to beginning summer light.
        On earth such a flight would longer than any normal flight.Newark to Singapore: 15,345 km.
        Mars has circumference of roughly half of earth- so going completely to opposite side of Mars is less than 11,000 km- and this would shorter than that, so around 9000 km. Or less than LA to Paris

  15. How about, first entity that lands and stays [not necessarily in person]
    on planet or other extraterrestrial object becomes the entity that gives land grants and it charges a fee for the service.

    This entity becomes envoy from that location to Earth- is treated as ambassador on earth [representing nation which hasn’t formed yet].
    The first task is to be recognized by enough nations.
    The prices charged for the service of providing a land grant could be somewhere around prices charged to register a motor vehicle.
    The rules and regulation regarding fees are charged for what are
    establish by envoy. And such rules will be included at point the envoy
    is seeking recognition.
    The fees could cover administration costs- monies paid to sole “governmental” official, and paid to potential treasury of new nation.
    The evoy at time of gaining recognition will also include it’s claim and any other claim which has already been processed by “the administration” and will promise to publish subsequent claims to that nation after being recognize as envoy by that country.

    In terms of US law. The US could agree that it would endeavor to be one the first nations to recognize such an envoy. And US government would publish what sort of conditions may be acceptable if a qualified envoy presents him or herself.

    1. Great idea. Not workable.

      That’s why you stick with what has worked as long as humans have been alive.

      You claim. You defend that claim.

      The beauty of this system is it doesn’t matter what others do. They could use the system you propose or any other. Those that claim and defend can for the most part just continue to go about their business and ignore all the other fooforall.

      You refine ‘claim,defend’ by organizing around agreed upon rules. This makes the defend part much, much easier.

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