SELENOGRAPHY: The Celestial Sovereign

by Genevieve Ennis Hume (MDes ’17)

Dení López - Selenography_EnnisBaudrillard writes that “it is no longer a question of either maps or territories. Something has disappeared: the sovereign difference, between one and the other, that constituted the charm of abstraction.” In the case of the Moon, this loss is literal, as the lunar map cannot delineate sovereign land.

The Outer Space Treaty was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1967 as the framework for international space law. Article II, critical to territorialisation, states:

“Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use of occupation, or by any other means.”

While the Treaty limited imperial reign by deeming the exploration and use of space as the “province of all mankind”, it failed to address land tenure in relation to resources. The Moon Treaty followed shortly thereafter in an attempt to limit both military and commercial activity in space in accordance with the United Nations Charter. Elaborating on the Space Treaty, it necessitated all interventions as exclusively peaceful in nature and prohibited the exploitation of celestial bodies and their resources. The Moon Treaty is considered to be a failed initiative, however, as it has only been ratified by 7 states, none of whom have their own manned space exploration programs. While current space law prevents celestial state control, sovereign influence remains. The door has been left open for imperialism rooted in surveying, extraction, and finance.

In 2008, trace water molecules were identified in lunar volcanic matter that had been recovered during the Apollo missions, spurring the mapping of lunar minerals. The ability to mine lunar ice is seen as key to a sustained human presence in space. In addition to yielding oxygen to breathe, the water is needed for human consumption, cooling, radiation shielding, and rocket propellant. Regolith, lunar soil, holds an estimated 1.6 billion liters of water ice, resting at the lunar poles.

This project seeks to add to a body of knowledge the geopolitics of extraction, with the moon at its center.