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A National Park on the Moon: When Moot Court Cases Come to Life Photo: NASA

A National Park on the Moon: When Moot Court Cases Come to Life

A proposed U.S. Bill brings the 2013 space law moot court case to life. Read how the hypothetical case related to the Moon is relevant to the discussions around the Bill, and how Leiden University students are involved.

The 2013 Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition introduces a hypothetical case in which a spacefaring nation named “Lydios” issues an extraterritorial legislative Act, called the “Moon Protection Act”. The Act is aimed to protect the Moon’s environment, inter alia, by designating “buffer zones” around historical Moon-rovers and landing-sites. The Act restricts other states from accessing these zones without prior consultation with Lydios.

One of the questions that arise from the facts of the case is whether a state can impose national legislation relating to the Moon, restricting the rights of other states, considering that the Moon is not subject to any claims of sovereignty pursuant to the International space treaties.

In principle, no state has jurisdiction over the Moon and hence, cannot impose national legislation over it. An exception to this fundamental rule is the right of a state to exercise jurisdiction and control over its registered space objects and personnel thereof (Art. VIII of the Outer Space Treaty and the Registration Convention).

The past days prove that the hypothetical question described above is more relevant than anticipated, as a Bill “To establish the Apollo Lunar Landing Sites National Historical Park on the Moon, and for other purposes” was presented in the U.S. Congress on the 8th of July.

While the interest of protecting historical lunar landing sites seems legitimate, and although the Act does not seek to claim ownership over the Moon, the words “National Park” seem to imply a claim of sovereignty over parts of the Moon, a practice that is not in line with the mentioned lex specialis. The following parts of the Bill support this observation:

  • “as commercial enterprises and foreign nations acquire the ability to land on the Moon it is necessary to protect the Apollo lunar landing sites for posterity”.
  • “‘‘Apollo lunar landing sites’’ means all areas of the Moon where astronauts and instruments connected to the Apollo program between 1969 and 1972 touched the lunar surface” (note: this would imply that the scope of the protected areas is wider than the current locations of U.S. space objects).
  • The Administration will be responsible according to Section 7 for “managing access to the sites”.

The Bill also aims for these sites to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

In 2011, NASA published guidelines aimed to protect the same sites; however the Bill is different since it would be legally binding. It states in Section 6 that the Park will be administered in accordance with “applicable international law and treaties” leading to possible contradiction, as according to common interpretation of the space treaties, the Bill itself is not in line with the law.

We are yet to find out whether the ICJ will find Lydios’ Act legitimate. One thing is certain though, the competition‘s World Finals will be even more intriguing due to the similarities between the hypothetical Act and the real proposed Act.

The student team of Leiden University’s IIASL, consisting of Matthew Maniscalco, Philippe Carous and Sonja Radosevic, coached by myself and assistant coach Steven Wood, will represent Europe in the competition next September in Beijing, along with the winners from Africa, Asia Pacific and North America.

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