Via a report by Leonard David, a Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics researcher named Martin Elvis sounds the alarm of how an unfriendly power – the Chinese for example – could seize control of an important piece of lunar real estate. They could do it legally by exploiting provisions of the Outer Space Treaty, which technically prohibits claims of national sovereignty on other worlds.

The real estate in question are the so-called “peaks of eternal light” that lay around permanently shadowed craters at the Lunar South Pole.

Because of the way the moon tilts, these peaks are bathed in sunlight for most if not all of the time. Thus this part of the moon would be perfect places to erect solar power stations that would support mining operations in the nearby craters, where water and other valuable resources have been deposited over billions of years.

The Outer Space Treaty allows any country or a private entity under the supervision of a state to perform peaceful activities in space, including the lunar surface. With that in mind, the Chinese could land on one end of a ridge that is part of the “peaks of eternal light” and then deploy a rover stringing out a line of copper wire to the other end.

The arrangement would become a dipole antenna such as people used to have on the roofs of their houses to obtain TV signals. The antenna would form a crude radio telescope that could be used to make studies in solar physics. The Chinese would have created a legitimate research station.

Unfortunately, no one else would be able to operate in proximity to the “research station” because radios and electronics would interfere with the experiment.

That sort of thing is prohibited by the Outer Space Treaty. China would have seized effective control of lunar territory, and it would be entirely legal. No doubt the same ploy could be used elsewhere

The matter cries out for negotiation before it becomes a problem. Unfortunately, China was proven to be quite resistant to diplomacy that it regards as against its interests. Recently it chose to defy a UN arbitration that decided that it had no right to seize control of the South China Sea and has proposed creating an air defense zone over it, sealing it off against other countries.

Only one certain solution exists to head off the first international crisis to occur on the moon. A friendlier party, the United States or a company under its protection by preference, needs to land on the peaks first and set up solar power plants. That way, the first lunar land grab in history will have been forestalled.

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