Kashmir’s Moon Owners

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by Raashid Andrabi(Kashmir Life)

On Shahid Yaqoob Khan’s birthday, Srinagar-born Hina Bashir was looking for something special to gift her husband. She is a programme coordinator at IMT University Dubai and Khan is a mechanical engineer and professional Photographer. She “purchased” a piece of land and surprised her space-loving spouse.

Only last week, a medical doctor in Kashmir claimed to become the first Kashmiri to own a piece of land on the moon. The race to purchase the lunar space started days after Chandriyan-III landed on the dark side of the moon. Jammu businessman Rupesh Masson purchased a plot on the celestial body and became a major news in print, TV and digital space. Jealousy apart, this triggered a lot of debate in Kashmir families that while they are desperate to own proper burial spaces, people are so rich that they have staked a claim on the moon.

No Ownership

Be sure, they own nothing on the moon. They only have purchased a certificate of owning a plot that the seller does not own himself. These certificates are merely decorative wall hangings in nature. “Your Lunar Land Claim and ownership package includes a beautifully engraved personalized deed, a satellite photograph of your property on the Moon and an information sheet detailing the geography of your selected area,” the seller declares on his website.

The scam is rooted in the United States of America and it is the story of Dennis Hope who was fighting joblessness after his separation from his partner when he discovered a “hope” in selling the celestial bodies. He claims to be the owner of almost everything in the universe except the sun and the earth.

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A Dream Seller

In the early 1980s, Hope was gazing out of his window, he saw unclaimed property on a cosmic scale. Recalling titbits from a college political science course about the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty, which prohibited nations from claiming the moon but remained silent on individual ownership, Hope saw an opportunity.

Hope went to his local US Governmental Office for claim registries, the San Francisco County Seat, and claimed the entire lunar surface, as well as the surface of all the other eight planets of the solar system and their moons (except Earth and the sun). Initially, he was taken for a crackpot but five hours later the main supervisor accepted and registered his claim of ownership.

Later, he sent a letter to the United Nations, staking a claim to the moon and daring them to refute his legal standing. To his surprise, there was no response, setting the stage for his audacious lunar enterprise.

Founded in 1980, Hope’s Lunar Embassy Corporation claims to have sold more than 611 million acres of lunar land, and the sales extend beyond the moon to include Mars, Venus, Mercury, and even Pluto. Operating on the premise that the UN Treaty does not apply to individuals, Hope sells lunar plots for US $19.95 per acre, complete with additional charges for a “lunar tax” and shipping for the deed. Larger plots and entire celestial bodies are also available, with purported buyers including three former US presidents – George HW Bush, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and nearly 700 well-known celebrities. Reports appearing in the media suggest that he once sold a “country-sized” plot of land – 2.66 million acres, for US$ 250,000.

A Scam

While Hope’s lunar real estate business thrives, legal experts challenge the interpretation of the UN Outer Space Treaty. According to these experts, the treaty applies not only to nations but also to their citizens, making individual lunar ownership untenable. Despite this, Hope remains steadfast in his claims, exploiting what he perceives as a legal loophole that supports his celestial enterprise.

Owning is slightly different from a wall hanging. In most countries, if one owns a piece of land, he or she exercises exclusive control over it and no one can use it without permission. The government recognises ownership and helps owners enforce it. That is not the case of the moon land-owning.

Yet, Hope envisions a future where lunar landowners, represented by the Galactic Government he presides over, can leverage their lunar properties. With Helium-3 reserves valued at over $6 quadrillion, Hope underscores the economic potential of his claimed lunar territory, adding an intriguing dimension to the ongoing cosmic drama. Helium-3 is used in nuclear fusion research on Earth and trades for about $125,000 an ounce.

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Nobody contested his claim – neither the US government nor the UN or any of the powerful five nations. Encouraged, he once threatened China which had said they would set up a station on the moon. Instead, the hugely moneyed man has been adopted by the Republicans.

But Hope, who has sold almost 7.5 per cent of the moon’s surface for US $ 12 million so far, is not the first claimant to the ownership of the moon. In 1996, German citizen Martin Juergens declared that the Moon belonged to his family, claiming that it had been presented to his ancestors in 1756 by Prussian King Frederick the Great as a gift of service. Juergens petitioned the German government to take the matter to the US. Not surprisingly, no action has been taken by either government.

Private companies have been ‘selling’ plots of land on the Moon since at least the 1950s. An acre on the moon goes for US $19.99, while the same size plot on Mars will set you back the US $22.49, plus tax and shipping and handling. It amounts to less than Rs 4000 an acre, something that cannot get a person his grave in Srinagar.

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