One Small Plot for Man, or One Giant Easement for Mankind?

A New Approach to the Outer Space Treaty’s Property for Mankind Principle

Since 1967, most activity in space has been governed by the Outer Space Treaty’s ‘Mankind Principle,’ which states, in part, that all of space, including planets, moons, and asteroids, are the common property of humankind. The treaty was signed at the height of the Cold War in an attempt to minimize the likelihood of conflict over terrestrial objects in space. However, it has ultimately resulted in increasing the likelihood of conflict today. With the passage of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act in 2015, the United States has joined an increasing list of nations promoting the exploration and commercialization of space. Additionally, for the first time in human history, private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin have the technological capacity for private space enterprise, including tourism and mining. As more nations and private companies seek to capitalize on the vast resources available in space, the likelihood increases that nations will shirk their obligations under the Outer Space Treaty and begin to allow companies to extract resources for their own benefit. These actions will then increase the likelihood of conflict between rival nations.

This Note explores the historical ways humans have divided land in the past and provides a background of the history of property law in space. It then identifies key areas where the Outer Space Treaty is holding nations and companies back and exposes several ways nations are already beginning to ignore the Treaty in order to promote domestic space industries. Finally, by analyzing prior failed Cold War treaties with similar ‘Mankind’ provisions, this Note promotes a comprehensive vision of colonization of space, aiming to divide land amongst nations in order to foster a uniform system of rules, while being permissive of private industry in space.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.