Should The Moon Be Developed?
by: Jim Carlton - THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The Moon Society, a nonprofit organization of astronomers, computer programmers and other scientists, advocate 'large-scale industrialization and private enterprise' on the moon.
Lunar golf courses, largescale industrialization under debate
A dispute over prohibiting development on the moon is causing rising tides of controversy on earth.
IN THE VANGUARD of one side is Rick Steiner, a fisheries professor at the University of Alaska and environmental activist, who proposes that the United Nations designate the moon one of its World Heritage Sites, reserved for peaceful and scientific purposes. Among the many who oppose that idea is the Moon Society, a nonprofit organization of astronomers, computer programmers and other scientists who advocate "large-scale industrialization and private enterprise" on the moon.
Mr. Steiner plans to present his proposal Saturday at the International Space Development Conference in Denver. "The bottom line here is: Let's go and explore our universe, but let's not go as Genghis Khan," he says. "Let's go as Mother Teresa."
In an e-mail to Mr. Steiner about the conference, the Moon Society's president, Gregory Bennett, said: "You'll want to be prepared to explain why the moon (or perhaps any real estate in the universe) ought to be the province of an authoritarian socialist state."
Referring to the heavy contingent of conference attendees who are expected to favor the moon's development, Mr. Bennett added this warning: "Better wear some thick armor."
Mr. Steiner outlined his proposal a few weeks ago to National Park Service officials. They sent him an e-mail questioning how an entire celestial body could be legally sealed off.
They also questioned whether current international law would allow such an action, given that the World Heritage Convention signed by the U.S. and many other countries in 1973 specifically calls for protected World Heritage Sites on Earth. (There are currently 721 World Heritage Sites, including 20 in the U.S.)
Mr. Steiner responds it would be much the same as when the U.S. and several dozen other nations declared Antarctica essentially off limits to all but peaceful scientific research in a 1959 treaty. As a result, he adds, Antarctica is the only continent that has largely been left in its pristine state.
"This serves as a powerful model for how we should approach space," says Mr. Steiner, whose proposal is garnering support from other academics and space experts. Among them: Edgar Mitchell, who explored the moon with Alan Shepard during the 1971 Apollo 14 mission, and Jackie Alan Giuliano, a former mission planner at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Says Mr. Giuliano: "There is little concern about protecting any solar system body from human exploitation or contamination."
But one man's contamination is another's developmental dream. Already, several big Japanese builders have set up divisions for moon-based-construction research. Shimizu Construction Corp., for instance, has been studying plans for lunar tennis courts and golf courses, while Nishimatsu Construction Corp. has proposed building a 10-story-high resort.
Then there is the Universal Lunarian Society, which wants to build the city of Lunaria on the moon. The society has been recording claim deeds for property on the moon since 1989 and five years ago began offering sites in the lunar crater of Copernicus for $50 an acre. The society has sought to bring together enough expertise to build its Lunaria colony by enlisting scientists and other space experts to become members.
Some involved in the controversy recommend a happy medium. "In my opinion, what is really needed is portions of the moon protected in some way, but justified private property claims also protected," says Arthur Smith, a Moon Society member from Ridge, N.Y.
Mr. Smith says Mr. Steiner's proposal fails to take into consideration how proposed lunar projects such as a solar-power plant designed to help fuel earthly activities could actually help the environment back on the home planet.
Mr. Steiner counters that the same kind of solar plant could be designed to operate in the moon's orbit, without marring the lunar surface. "You know," he says, "the moon is a stunningly beautiful place, and it shouldn't be defiled."
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