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The Moon Treaty is the only one of the four documents drafted by COPUOS not yet in force; the Secretary General has not yet received deposition of the instruments of ratification by five nations, as required by the treaty itself. The Moon Treaty also represents the only one of the four agreements which became deeply imbedded in controversy immediately upon its resolution of approval by the General Assembly. Some of the more controversial provisions include:

  • a ban on all weapons (not just nuclear or mass destruction weapons) from celestial bodies, although this provision is not applied to Earth orbit;
  • a clear prohibition on private ownership of extraterrestrial real estate, or of resources "in place," and a designation of extraterrestrial resources as the Common Heritage of Mankind; and
  • the eventual establishment of an Outer Space Regime whose authority would be actionable and whose purpose would be to oversee and regulate the "orderly development and exploitation" of extraterrestrial resources.

The Treaty was codified in 1979. Its basic purpose was to insure that any wealth obtained from the Moon by any space faring nation was to be distributed to all the people of the world. This treaty was the culmination of the time when the world's underdeveloped nations were attempting to use international forums to assert their rights as sovereign nations and to obtain their share of the world's and space's resources.

In the Moon Treaty is a phrase which states that the Moon is the "common heritage of all mankind." The Outer Space Treaty had words which sounded similar - "the common Province of all mankind", but actually meant that no single country could claim outer space or other celestial bodies as colonies, but it permits the use of the resources. "The common heritage of all mankind" is a phrase which means all the resources of space belong to all nations and the use or extraction by one nation is against this treaty. There is also an international organization established to redistribute the wealth returned from the moon and Outer Space. This interpretation of the treaty is disputed and has resulted in the U.S. and Soviet Union/Russia not signing the treaty.

The Moon Treaty has only be ratified by nine countries since its codification in 1979. Neither the U.S. nor Russia have signed it. This treaty brought the international cooperation period to a close. Mistrust of the Northern nations by the Southern nations has become more apparent and there has been less desire to cooperate. Future treaties for the use of outer space may be in doubt even if they are desperately needed.

Despite the accession of the American delegation to the Moon Treaty and despite the delegation's uncontradicted statement in COPUOS that the words "in place" allow private property rights to apply to resources upon extraction it now appears doubtful that the Moon Treaty will be presented to the U.S. Senate for ratification in the near future (15). Private interests in the United States fear that the Outer Space Regime (or space government) will tend more toward a one-nation-one-vote structure than toward the contribution-oriented organization of the World Bank or International Monetary Fund. Many analysts fear that the majority of countries might insist, as they have in the Seabed Treaty negotiations, that this proposed space administration not simply issue licenses without discrimination (perhaps for a nominal fee or small net profit percentage), but also deny or control uses of outer space, levy stiff taxes, and/or oversee equipment use and retrieval in free space.