Note: I originally wrote this article for about.com, which has since ceased to exist. I recently came across it while going through my files. So I decided to repost it here.
In 2013, Maria Angeles Duran began selling plots of land on eBay. That, in itself, wasn't unusual. However, the land she was selling was located on the sun. She offered square-meter plots for the price of 1 euro each. By 2015, she had over 600 buyers, but then eBay pulled the plug on her, saying her auctions violated its "intangible goods" policy.
Further complicating Duran's business plan was the fact that she was in no way a pioneer of solar real estate sales. Long before she came along, numerous other people had already staked a claim to the sun. In fact, for over 75 years there's been a booming market in real estate located throughout the entire universe, with the result that by now every corner of the cosmos has been claimed by multiple would-be owners.
Hot Property: Maria Angeles Duran wants to sell you land on the sun
The First Owner
If priority in this matter means anything (and it probably doesn't) then the entire universe, except for the Earth, is owned by Arthur Dean Lindsay and his descendants, since Lindsay appears to be the first guy who had the idea of laying claim to outer space. In 1937, he filed a deed at the Irwin County Courthouse in Ocilla, Georgia, declaring his ownership of "all of the property known as planets, islands-of-space or other matter." When he informed the press of this, he became widely known as the "man who owns the universe." However, these vast holdings didn't help his finances much. In 1937, it was reported that he was bankrupt.
Arthur Dean Lindsay — the man who owned the universe
Homesteading the Moon
In 1948, William Honhold and Robert Eaton of Sewickley, Pennsylvania got the idea of writing to the Bureau of Land Management to request "all rights and privileges to the moon" under the federal homestead act. Interior Secretary Krug actually took the time to respond, saying, "Sovereignty of the United States has never been established over the moon; consequently, land areas, if any, of that planet cannot at this time be regarded as subject to claims or applications under the federal public land laws." Honhold and Eaton planned an appeal to the United Nations.
Idaho Falls Post-Register - Apr 21, 1948
The Nation of Celestial Space
In December 1948, Chicago ad man James T. Mangan declared himself the ruler of the "Nation of Celestial Space" and a month later he acquired a title from the Cook County recorder establishing his ownership of "all space in all directions from the earth." His claim was challenged in 1957 by the Soviet launch of Sputnik, which Mangan denounced as "an unprovoked trespassing into my territory." A year later he offered to turn over jurisdiction of outer space to the United States. However, his offer was ignored. Mangan also minted gold coins (he called them "celestons") which he deemed the official currency of outer space.
(left) Wearing space glasses, Mangan makes one of his proclamations "official" with his seal;
The Owner of Everything
(right) the currency of outer space: a gold celeston.
In 1952, Altadena resident Paul J. Donavan paid $1.50 to file a claim in the San Bernardino County Recorder's Office to all rights to the moon, the sun, all stars, and the atmosphere in between. Unfortunately, he forgot the planets. So two days later he returned and filed a claim to those also. And a year later, he supplemented his holdings by claiming "all land, temporarily or permanently covered by the salt water bodies of the earth." All tax-free, of course.
Donovan checks a sky map before filling out certificate transferring ownership of a star
Pasadena Independent Sun - Nov 30, 1952
By 1965, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management had received numerous homestead claims for land on the moon. Enough to fill a thick folder full of them. But in this year it received the first application accompanied by a photo of the area desired when John Kremper and Hal Helton submitted a photo of the lunar Sea of Tranquility taken by the Ranger 8 spacecraft in February 1965. The Bureau responded that the applicants would need to establish residence for at least six months in order to claim a site.
Ranger 8 picture of the Sea of Tranquility
Willing to Share
In 1955, attorney Jenaro Gajardo Vera registered himself as owner of the moon in a Chilean court. Fourteen years later, in anticipation of the first landing on the moon by Apollo 11, he sent an open letter to President Nixon asking permission to visit the United States for the return of the astronauts from the moon and offering, "on which occasion I will take my title to share it happily with the champions of outer space." The White House did not respond. When Gajardo died in 1998 he left the moon to the people of Chile.
Jenaro Gajardo Vera
The Lunar Embassy
Ex-ventriloquist and car salesman Dennis Hope took the commercialization of space real estate to new heights. In 1980 he laid claim to the entire lunar surface as well as the surface of all planets in the Solar System except Earth. He then set up a company called The Lunar Embassy and began selling celestial plots of land. Surprisingly, his business proved to be a huge success. By 2009, he claimed to have sold 2.5 million 1-acre plots on the Moon, for approximately $20 per acre. The Lunar Embassy remains in business to this day.
Lunar Savings and Loan
In 1984, the Austin-based Lamar Savings and Loan submitted an application with the Texas Banking Commission to obtain permission to open a branch on the Moon. The Commission denied its request. Nevertheless, Lamar Savings promoted its lunar ambitions in advertisements. Four years later, the Lamar S&L became a victim of its own aggressive growth when it collapsed along with many other insolvent S&Ls, thereby contributing to a financial debacle that cost taxpayers over $200 billion.
Ad for Lamar Savings
Austin American-Statesman - Jan 3, 1985
The Internet has been host to many extraterrestrial land-sale schemes, because absolutely anyone can launch a website and start selling land in outer space. Some of the sites you can choose to purchase celestial land from include the Lunar Embassy
(see above), Own-The-Sun.com
, and the Lunar Registry
. After being kicked off eBay, Maria Angeles Duran set up her own shop online, where she continued to sell solar land.
Is there any legal basis for any of these claims?
In a word, no. Proponents of extraterrestrial land ownership often note that the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 banned nations from claiming ownership of celestial bodies, but it said nothing about individuals doing so. So this might be a loophole in Space Law. True enough. However, there's a Common Law tradition that you can only claim land as your own if you've established a presence on it. As Charles Stoddard, Director of the Bureau of Land Management, put it in 1965, it's like the old recipe for cooking a sea monster. First you have to catch the monster.
In 2006, NASA issued a statement that summed up the extraterrestrial real estate market quite succinctly. It said, "the deeds they sell have no legal value or significance, and convey no recognized rights whatsoever."