Editor: Ashutosh Bharadwaj Camera: Sumit Badola
In 1996, singer Kumar Sanu proclaimed “My moon is visible to me”. In 2019, India asked, “Are water and natural resources also visible up there?”
And therefore, on 22 July, ISRO launched the Chandrayaan-2 mission to find out.
Now, with India's first moon lander, Vikram, set to touch down on the south polar region of the moon on 7 September – to look for water, oxygen and other natural resources – the big question is: Can anyone really own the moon?
Basically, can India plant a flag on the moon’s south pole and claim that it belongs to us now? After all, till recently, planting a national flag on a piece of land did amount to claiming ownership over it.
The Short Answer: No
No, neither India nor anyone else can divide the moon up among themselves. The long answer, though, lies in the United Nations’ “Outer Space Treaty”
This treaty, signed by the US, UK, Soviet Union and India at the height of the cold war specifically stated that the moon, “cannot be subject to national appropriation, by use, occupation or any other means.”
This is why 50 years ago when Neil Armstrong planted the American flag on the moon it did not mean that the moon belonged to America.
Even Armstrong’s famous words, “A small step for man, a giant leap for mankind”, makes it abundantly clear that that it was an achievement not just for the United States but for all of humankind.”
The Treaty said that the moon “shall be free for exploration and use by all States” but “shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries”.
In simple words, the moon belongs to everyone and yet to no one.
Back in 1967, the big space powers signed it because exploiting the moon’s natural resources wasn’t really on the horizon.
But hang on a moment.
Why is There a Renewed Interest in the Moon?
There is suddenly renewed interest in the moon. NASA, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk, China and Russia all have their eyes on our celestial neighbours.
The same reason as Chandrayaan-2. The government has spent Rs 978 crore on this mission to find out if there are traces of water, oxygen and the isotope helium-3, which is vital for clean fuel. The next step will be to mine these resources.
Colonising the moon is not the biggest question. What the world must answer is – can someone own the moon’s natural resources for profit?
Surely, Amazon isn’t directing our online shopping money into space exploration?
So, where do we stand in 2019?
The world is split into two schools of thought. Countries like the US and some in Europe believe in the “finders keepers” policy.
In 2015, US passed the “Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act” which basically recognises the right of its citizens to own and legally sell resources they manage to mine from asteroids. It’s similar to the laws of the high seas.
Others like Russia and Brazil feel that moon’s resources belong to humanity as a whole.
And as far as Indians are concerned, if we had to migrate to a place with giant craters, poisonous dust, no guarantee of clean water and temperatures that go up to 150 degrees celsius – it may just feel like home.