ALMATY, Kazakhstan, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- A consulate of the Lunar Embassy has opened in Almaty and so far five people in the former Soviet republic in Central Asia have purchased $99 plots on the moon.
While some may view this as a joke or a moneymaking opportunity, the idea of owning land on the moon has sparked a legal debate over whether it even is possible to sell and purchase parts of the moon.
The Almaty consulate is part of an enterprise run by Dennis Hope, who opened his privately owned Lunar Embassy in California, which also is connected with the Lunar Embassy in St. Petersburg, Russia
The consulate in Almaty sells 177.76 acres of the moon's surface for $99, Yulya, a consulate representative who preferred not to use her last name, told United Press International. She said in the United States, a unit of the lunar surface is more expensive.
Moon plot buyers receive a contract of acquisition of property, the Lunar Constitution and a map of the lunar surface.
"Buyers are respectable people with portions of romanticism," Yulya said. The buyers in Kazakhstan are businessmen. Some of them bought plots as a gift to their beloved, she added.
Plots may be gifted and handed down, she said, but added it is practically impossible for the owners to pawn plots on the Moon's surface because people think it is a joke.
Professor Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz, director of the National Remote Sensing and Space Law Center at the University of Mississippi at Oxford and an expert on law in outer space, including the Moon Treaty, told UPI: "The legitimacy of the Lunar Embassy's sale of deeds to property on the Moon and other celestial bodies is highly questionable, and most likely illegal under both the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the 1979 Moon Treaty."
"The Outer Space Treaty is silent on the question of property rights. It neither permits them nor prohibits them," Gabrynowicz added.
Gabrynowicz said the Moon Treaty leaves the final determination of the status of property rights to a future "international regime" which has never been established.
"And although the Moon Treaty specifically prohibits parties to the treaty from recognizing or conferring real property rights, this could be changed if an international regime were established and its members agreed to recognize property rights," she said. "All of this, as a political matter, is highly speculative."
Gabrynowicz said she would not give the Lunar Consulate in Kazakhstan any of her own money.
Under the 1979 Moon Treaty, officially called the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, the moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind.
"The moon is not subject to national appropriation by any claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means," the agreement says. "Neither the surface nor the subsurface of the moon, nor any part thereof or natural resources in place, shall become property of any State, international intergovernmental or non-governmental organization, national organization or non-governmental entity or of any natural person."
"But the last sentence of this paragraph also says, 'The foregoing provisions are without prejudice to the international regime referred to in paragraph 5 of this article,'" Gabrynowicz said. "This means that 1.) if a regime were established its members could 2.) agree to recognize property rights if they chose to."
In an interview with scifidimensions.com this month, Hope said in 1980 he filed a declaration of ownership for the moon and the other eight planets. He said he told the United Nations and governments of other nations to speak up if they had objections. "I never heard from them," he said in the interview. "This is all predicated on the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. We are fully compliant within the laws as they are currently written."
Hope has received financial benefits from the Lunar Embassy. According to StudentMagazine.com, Hope claims 273,000 people around the world have bought a piece of the moon. Hope donates 50 cents from the sale of every acre to charity, the magazine reported.