Moon lots with a nice view of earth: Lunar real estate sales take off

NEW YORK – When Yana Oselkin turned 28 last September, her younger brother bought her an unusual birthday gift.

“He got me an acre on the moon, with an earth-facing view,” the Manhattan-based dentist recalled recently. “I thought he was kidding.”

Oselkin now says she is a “proud moon owner,” but views her property mostly as a novelty. She has no imminent plans to leave New York, let alone planet Earth.

However, others take the lunar real estate business seriously. Dennis Hope, a Nevada-based entrepreneur who sells lunar property through his company, “The Lunar Embassy,” claims to own the entire moon and eight other celestial bodies in the solar system. He says he has sold 410 million acres on the moon and properties on Mars, Venus and one of the moons of Jupiter to nearly 2.5 million people around the world.

Hope recently formed a “galactic government,” naming himself interim president. He expects the lunar property owners to ratify a newly drafted constitution. Hope has six “ambassadors,” who sell property on his behalf, and 27 additional “realty agents” scattered around the world.

He claims that together they make 1,500 sales a day, selling individual plots over the Internet for $19.99 an acre, not including the $1.50 lunar tax.

“I take this as seriously as any other company,” said Hope, who calls himself “the head cheese.” “Our claim is as valid as any other claim of land.”

Hope says he claimed the moon in 1980 as an uninhabited land with an “intent to occupy.” His legal team supports his ownership claim under a loophole in the 1967 U.N. Outer Space Treaty, drafted during the Cold War space race. Article II of the treaty states that “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty.” Hope said the treaty says nothing about individual ownership.

However, many others reject his claim.

“It’s ridiculous. No one has the right to sell the moon,” said Gregory Matloff, a consultant for NASA and an astronomy professor at City College in New York. “This is a scam.”

Dr. Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, a nonprofit international space interest group, voiced similar skepticism.

“I’ve worked in the space program for 35 years, and I have never heard of this,” he said. “His idea is science fiction.”

The United Nations recently raised reservations as well. “To the extent that there is territorial jurisdiction, there can be no private ownership of parts of outer space or celestial bodies,” Sama Paymen, a legal officer at the U.N. Office of Outer Space Affairs in Vienna, Austria, said in an e-mail message.

One of Hope’s leading critics, Virgilu Pop, an extraterrestrial property rights expert at Glasgow University, recently claimed to “own” the sun and threatened to charge “extraterrestrial owners” for solar energy. Pop said he was attempting to expose Hope’s phony real estate venture.

Nevertheless, Hope said he stands on legal ground. His legal challenges have shut down 27 copycat businesses since 1996, and he is preparing a lawsuit against his biggest challenger, The Lunar Registry, which also sells lunar property. The registry was unavailable for comment.

Hope said that 42 percent of his clients registered their properties in family trusts, a sign he interpreted as interest in colonizing the moon. He believed that the time when owners would be able to inhabit their celestial land was “closer than we all think.”

Hope was encouraged by President Bush’s Jan. 14 speech that mentioned the possibility of humans returning to the moon, and perhaps visiting Mars, within the next couple of decades.

Hope said that to avoid a clash between NASA and his clients, he was willing to lease the moon to the U.S. government for 200 years, in return for favored nation status for his government, diplomatic rights for his ambassadors and an official recognition of his, and their, ownership. His secretary said that she had contacted the White House to seek a meeting with Bush.

Hope believes that any potential conflicts can be resolved through negotiations, but he warned that a contingency plan existed.

“Our constitution gives us the right to form an army if the need arises,” he said.

Hope has contingency plans in place for other scenarios as well, including encountering alien life. He said that in such a case, he hoped there would be shared ownership, but “if they ask us to leave, we will.”

Encounters of the third kind aside, Hope says that what he is really trying to do is create the groundwork for life on the moon. He noted that there were still more than 9 billion acres of land available, but that certain plots were strictly off limits.

“We deemed the areas where the Americans and the Soviets landed as ‘celestial reserves,'” he said. “These are like national parks. They are not for sale.”