This article addresses questions of U.S. international legal and space policy arising from current proposals of the U.S., Russia, China and India to establish national bases on the Moon, in part with the purpose of mining and bringing to Earth Helium-3 (He-3). He-3 is an isotope of helium that is available in quantity only on the Moon and could, as an ideal fuel for nuclear fusion reactors, furnish humanity a virtually unlimited source of safe, non-polluting energy for centuries to come. For example, it is estimated that 40 tons of liquefied He-3 brought from the Moon to the Earth – about the amount that could comfortably fit in the cargo bays of two of the existing U.S. space shuttles – would provide sufficient fuel for He-3-based fusion reactors to meet the full electrical needs of the U.S. – or a quarter of the entire world’s electrical needs – for an entire year. However, there is as yet no international consensus on whether, or how, any nation or private enterprise can exploit or acquire title to He-3 or other lunar resources. The article calls attention to what may become a “race to the Moon” to obtain He-3 and discusses: (1) the technical and economic prospects for the development of He-3-based energy; (2) the present legal situation concerning the exploitation of lunar resources such as He-3; and (3) policy options for the U.S. regarding the establishment of an international legal regime capable of avoiding conflict in the exploitation of He-3 and other lunar resources and facilitating the broad scale development of He-3-based energy.
This article combines two of my passions: property rights and space! Property rights on the moon is such a fascinating concept. It is reminiscent of Pierson v. Post, a case where society had not yet assigned property rights, and capture was used to obtain dominion. See my article on the natural law background of Pierson.