Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Space Travel Is Taking Off, But Companies Also Want To Sell Things From Outer Space

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The laws around buying extraterrestrial land or resources are pretty nebulous, and for a long time this was a moot point. Almost nobody went to space, much less did business there. And that's changing. So Stacey Vanek Smith from The Indicator has been following the money to find out who's cashing in on the final frontier.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Who owns the moon? If you ask Christopher Lamar, he will tell you his dad owns it. Chris is the president of the Lunar Embassy.

CHRISTOPHER LAMAR: Lunar Embassy is a company that provides a methodology for the distribution of equity upon celestial bodies within our solar system. It's...

VANEK SMITH: You sell property in space.

LAMAR: I sell property in space.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter).

Lunar Embassy is selling this property in space based on Chris's dad, who claimed ownership of the moon and all of the planets 40 years ago. It was a really low point in his life.

LAMAR: And he's sitting at a red light. And he's saying to himself, if only I owned a lot of property, things would be a lot better, right? And staring out in the windshield was a full moon. And he said, well, there's a lot of property.

VANEK SMITH: After this red light eureka moment, Chris' dad headed to the county recorder's office in San Francisco.

LAMAR: He filed a claim of ownership for the moon of Earth, the other eight planets in our solar system and their moons in entirety.

VANEK SMITH: Chris' dad just said, hey; so you know the moon and also Mars and Saturn and all those? No country has the right to claim them. But individuals technically can, so dibs. Just like that, Lunar Embassy was launched. You can go to their website and take your pick of planets. An acre of Venus, Mercury, Mars, the moon - for $25, it can be yours.

LAMAR: We're reaching 6 million landowners.

VANEK SMITH: Six million is a lot.

LAMAR: Yeah, it is.

VANEK SMITH: I mean, 6 million's, like - it's like your business is worth millions of dollars.

LAMAR: Correct.

VANEK SMITH: More than $100 million, actually. And Chris says nobody - not the government or the U.N. - has ever challenged his business or his ownership claim. But a little healthy competition might be on the horizon.

ATOSSA ARAXIA ABRAHAMIAN: You could argue that what NASA is doing and what the Lunar Embassy is doing is essentially the same thing.

VANEK SMITH: Atossa Araxia Abrahamian is a journalist and author who researches property and jurisdictions. And in the course of her research, she came across something really strange.

ABRAHAMIAN: NASA has given a handful of small, emergent space companies contract to go to the moon, gather some materials from the moon.

VANEK SMITH: Is it just, like, dirt?

ABRAHAMIAN: I mean, it's dirt, but it's really cool outer space dirt.

VANEK SMITH: The contracts state that NASA would then buy the dirt from these companies when they get it back to Earth for not a ton of money.

ABRAHAMIAN: I think the biggest one I saw was, like, a thousand or a few thousand dollars.

VANEK SMITH: So why is NASA doing this? According to Atossa, the logic behind these contracts is very similar to the logic Chris's dad used 40 years ago. In the case of NASA, says Atossa...

ABRAHAMIAN: They are establishing that moon dirt can be bought and sold. And not only can it be bought and sold, but it can be bought and sold by earthlings on Earth using earthling dollars.

VANEK SMITH: With these weird little moon dirt contracts, NASA is establishing an economic precedent for buying and selling stuff from space. In other words, says Atossa, a market is born.

Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.