the four-bedroom, three-bath home overlooking LA he bought in 2013 for his now ex-wife Talulah Riley. Keep reading to take a look inside Musk’s real-estate …
If Elon Musk goes to land a rocket on Mars, can he claim it as his own territory?
Phillip gives an excellent overview of the legal status of land ownership off-planet. There’s one additional critical issue he doesn’t mention, though. Any ownership claim requires international recognition to hold any weight. The Outer Space Treaty doesn’t prevent non-signatory states from recognizing a claim. But you’d need more than a single country to recognize it from a practical standpoint. How many? There’s no good, legally binding, answer to that. But we can look at international recognition of independence declarations for clues. Generally, a nation’s independence ends up behaving like a fully recognized state when there are perhaps only a few nations, maybe up to 5-10, that don’t recognize it, but the vast majority do. Chances are a private claim to Martian territory would require a similar near-unanimous recognition to be practical and the OST stands firmly in the way of that.
But then we get down to the practicality of it. What would such a claim mean? And who would enforce or oppose it? And how would they do that? If Musk forms a true off-planet colony that is legitimately self-sustaining, and believe me that is both a long shot and a long way away, theoretically there’s not a whole lot Earth-based nations could really do to stop him. It’d just be too expensive to mount an expedition to Mars just to enforce a treaty.
If he established something anywhere shy of self-sustaining, he’d have to rely on flights from Earth to supply it. And if he’s stuck launching from Earth, he’d have to find enough countries to accept his claim and also allow him to acquire and launch resources. Again, given OST, that’s a very tall order. Most of the wealthy nations on Earth as well as I believe all of the space-faring nations are signatories. So he’d have to launch from somewhere like Tuvalu, which is somewhat famous for recognizing controversial territorial claims. And he’d have to supply all of the materials and manpower from likely rogue states willing to upset the international balance a bit. All of these are really non-ideal and probably totally unworkable scenarios.
But more importantly than if he could do so is the question of if he wants to. And given his passion for the innovative and entrepreneurial culture of his adopted home of the US, I doubt he’d want to experiment with flouting treaties it has signed. He certainly wouldn’t want to risk his relationships with NASA or the multiple nations who launch satellites on his rockets. And really, Musk wants to establish a presence on Mars, but he’s never really expressed interest in establishing ownership there. I doubt he’d even be interested in doing so.