There is at least one person who believes that ownership of the moon could go to China once the country's efforts to actualize a moon base are realized (planned for the 2020s) -- even though there exists an international treaty that forbids direct ownership by claim, use, or other means of the moon by any one country or organization.
However, space exploration advocate Robert Bigelow says, according to Discovery News, that China's economic strength, national direction, and proposed timeline for reaching the moon and constructing a lunar base will place the Asian nation in an optimum position to dictate moon matters and claim important mineral rights. He says the international treaty will not matter and ownership of the moon will be the first step in China's gambit to win what he calls "Solar System Monopoly."
"This will characterize the 21st and 22nd centuries and beyond. If we ignore this, it will be at our extreme peril," Bigelow told his audience at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight going on this week in Las Cruces, N.M. "Nothing else China could possibly do in the next 15 years would cause as great a benefit for China."
Bigelow believes that China's global economic influence, not to mention the technological capability and will to colonize and/or mine the moon, will provide a buffer zone of allowance. Most nations will be too poor and economically dependent to object to a Chinese land and mineral grab.
The United States, Russia, India and European nations (or the European Union) might object but have little in the planning or operational stages as competition to a Chinese lunar base. Economic problems and political policies (such as massive defundings of NASA) are seen to also work as a curb against opposition to a determined effort by the Chinese government space program to reach and setting up mining operations on the moon.
Why the worry? Bigelow believes that a territory grab will set the Chinese up for mineral rights ownership. Discovery of water on the moon last year (where NASA "bombed" the lunar surface and found water deposits) would make it possible to set up missions with longevity through permanent lunar facilities. A recent study released information that the moon also has areas where it is titanium rich.
Titanium, a rare metal on Earth, is more durable than steel, lighter, and, because of its rarity, expensive. A lunar base could possibly lead to an advantage to the operator, establishing a "claim" and subsequent mineral rights to that which can be extracted from the claimed territory.
In short, if China gets to the moon first, establishes a lunar base first (plans are in place to establish a base in the 2020s), they could set up extraction facilities that greatly benefit China and few others. Although minerals and goods manufactured in low gravity would ultimately make it to Earth market, China would dictate the supply and price with its monopoly. A space mission that results in a lunar base could also lead to manufacturing installations on the moon itself and establish for China a foothold on dominating the space race, not only with regard to the moon but also future expeditions to Mars.
Bigelow, billionaire hotel owner (Budget Suites) and aerospace entrepreneur (founder of Bigelow Aerospace), is hopeful that pointing out such Chinese dominance with regard to future space missions will alter the current American space race lethargy, a position almost diametrically opposed to the national effort during the 1960s that placed a man on the moon before the end of that decade.
In fact, the United States has placed NASA funding in stasis for the next half-decade, the shuttle fleet has been mothballed, and although there will be exploratory probes and the like launched in the coming decade, the only manned space missions will be done in conjunction with other space agencies. American astronauts will hitch rides into space with the Russians for the foreseeable future.
"Hopefully this will produce the fear factor necessary to motivate Americans," Bigelow said.
In a nation distracted by latest celebrity sex scandal and other general non-issues, where the political landscape is more often as not polarized and in gridlock through the pervasive use of the fear angle, Bigelow's message might simply be lost in the general cacophony of what might be the greatest threat to America's economic and political future.
Although Bigelow says that it might not be too late for America to get back in the space race, the political reality suggests that much of China's competition might not come from other nations but from private companies such as his own that are developing space vehicles and initiating missions to the moon.
Even during the Age of Exploration (15th century to early 17th century), where governments, individuals, and trading companies alike sponsored exploratory missions and the Treaty of Tordesillas demarcated the globe for Portugal and Spain, expeditions set up colonies and outposts all over the world. And to those who operated the claimed territories (often done in the name of a sovereign for protection) -- and could do so without interference or replacement (usually via force) -- went the spoils of ownership and development.
And if history is the ultimate adjudicator as to what China might do once it has established a moon base, a treaty establishing international non-ownership of the moon will most likely produce little effect with a nation that can make an unopposed proprietary claim through presence, development, and usage.