Legal debate erupts over the presence of human ashes and sports drink containers on the moon.

Unconventional Plans to Exploit Moon Spark Legal Debate

An array of unconventional plans to exploit the moon, including using it as a site for human ashes and sports drink containers, has gained momentum in recent years. As NASA aims to increase accessibility to Earth’s natural satellite, concerns about oversight and legal questions surrounding moon usage have come to the forefront.

Private companies and emerging space powers are expected to send landers to the moon in the near future, joining the US flag and remnants of past programs. These initiatives could involve placing capsules of human remains, advertising sports drinks, and even constructing a two-story-tall Christian cross made of lunar dirt.

Leslie Tennen, an attorney specializing in international space law, emphasized the need for caution in exploring the moon. She highlighted the importance of avoiding contamination, not only in terms of biological and chemical factors but also litter.

In a recent private moon mission by US company Astrobotic, which unfortunately failed to reach the moon’s surface, capsules of human ashes and a can of Japanese sports drink Pocari Sweat were among the payloads. The purpose of the sports drink can remains unclear.

Under US law, any item, including human remains and sports drink containers, can be sent to the moon as long as relevant agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, certify that it does not compromise public health, safety, national security, or international obligations.

The issue of moon usage will gain more attention as NASA relies on private companies to reduce the costs of lunar trips. Currently, there are no specific US laws or standards outlining acceptable activities on the moon’s surface. NASA envisions establishing long-term moon bases and fostering a competitive commercial marketplace.

Legal experts specializing in space law have expressed concerns about the absence of regulations. They worry about potential conflicts between US companies and other countries operating on the lunar surface, as well as disputes over land appropriation and claims of sovereignty.

The lack of guidelines has sparked interest in various possibilities. For instance, entrepreneur Justin Park aims to build a Christian cross on the moon, potentially as tall as a two-story building, using hardened lunar dirt. This ambitious project, estimated to cost $1 billion, has been discussed with US lawmakers and Catholic organizations.

The issue becomes more complex when considering cultural sensitivities. For example, Celestis, a Texas-based company that launches cremated human remains into space, faced backlash from the Navajo Nation, who consider the moon sacred and viewed the company’s memorial mission as sacrilege.

While NASA officials overseeing funding for Astrobotic’s mission have stated that they have no control over the payloads of private companies, they acknowledge the potential for future payload standards.

The lack of lunar regulations also raises concerns about compliance with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which requires countries to authorize and supervise the activities of non-governmental entities. With another private US lunar mission on the horizon, the lack of regulation risks putting the United States in conflict with this treaty.

As the space industry, the Biden administration, and lawmakers continue to debate the regulation of commercial space activities, the need for international guidance on moon behavior becomes increasingly urgent. Currently, few countries have adopted standards for moon usage, and international rules remain ambiguous.

Martha Mejía-Kaiser, a Mexican-German space lawyer and board member of the International Institute of Space Law, stressed the importance of starting international discussions on moon activities without delay. She believes that action is overdue and urgently required.

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