NEW DELHI: In a race to unlock the commercial potential of the moon, a slew of unconventional and privately funded plans has emerged, raising concerns about gaps in oversight and legal ambiguity. As Nasa encourages increased accessibility to Earth’s natural satellite, the lack of regulations governing lunar activities has become a pressing issue.
Private companies and emerging space powers are gearing up to send landers to the moon, and their payloads include human ashes, sports drink containers, and even proposals for a massive Christian cross made from lunar soil.Leslie Tennen, an attorney specializing in international space law, warns of the need to avoid contaminating the moon with both biological and chemical materials and litter.
The recent mission by US company Astrobotic, which aimed to deliver human ashes and a can of Japanese sports drink to the moon, highlighted the current legal vacuum. Under US law, items can be sent to the moon as long as federal agencies certify that the launch doesn’t jeopardize public health, safety, national security, or international obligations.
As Nasa increasingly relies on private companies to reduce costs for lunar missions, the absence of clear guidelines for lunar surface activities becomes more apparent. With no existing US laws or standards for the moon’s surface, concerns are rising about potential conflicts between US companies and other countries operating on the lunar surface.
Entrepreneurs are exploring diverse opportunities, including the construction of a two-story-tall Christian cross on the moon. Justin Park, a Washington, D.C.-based entrepreneur, emphasizes the importance of avoiding overly restrictive regulations, stating that strict rules could hinder the growth of the emerging industry.
However, the lack of regulation has led to controversy, as demonstrated by Celestis, a Texas-based company that launches cremated human remains into space. The Navajo Nation criticized Celestis for its memorial mission, considering it sacrilegious, as the moon holds sacred significance in their culture.
Celestis CEO Charles Schafer defends the company’s decision, asserting that space mission decisions shouldn’t be based on religious considerations. Meanwhile, concerns are growing that the absence of regulations may violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which requires countries to authorize and supervise non-governmental entities’ space activities.
With another private US lunar lander set to launch soon, the lack of lunar regulation risks conflicting with international treaties. The urgency to establish clear international guidelines for lunar behavior is emphasized by experts who argue that discussions at an international level are long overdue.
(With inputs from agencies)

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