Rand Simberg got some press attention the other day with his proposal to advance property rights in space, but I'm only now getting around to mentioning it. Simberg's essay itself is worth reading, as is Dunstan's rebuttal. But rather than summarizing the debate, I point people to Jeff Foust's excellent summary of the current discussion over at Space Review. Although I never thought I'd have much to agree with coming out of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (which published Simberg's paper), I applaud both Simberg and CEI for raising the issue.
I'm not sure where I come down on this yet. To make spaceflight a viable, sustainable endeavor, it will have to be more than just exploration for exploration's sake or science for science's sake: people will have to make money off of it. And to do that there will need to be some kind of legal recognition of, and protection for, extraterrestrial activities in order that private companies will be willing to invest their capital in such enterprises.
But whether or not land ownership is the best solution is unclear. Perhaps a different model, such as legally recognizing resource tenure would be more appropriate. This would allow companies the right to harvest and sell resources (oxygen, hydrogen, H20, platinum group metals, helium-3, what have you) without actually owning the land. And there also should be some element of legal responsibility to limit damage to extraterrestrial environments (ex. you shouldn't be able to remove an entire mountain range, or detonate your own nuclear device). Michael Listner - who unlike myself actually specializes in space law - has good insight into such issues, and I expect (and look forward to) his perspective on this in the near future.
A story on this over at Wired Science following the jump: