The moon rocks collected by the Apollo missions more than 40 years ago were brought back to Earth without much controversy. Several are on display in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
Had they been gathered now, they would probably have provoked much more debate. Over recent decades, moon rocks have come to symbolise something altogether different: space mining and a potential multibillion dollar market.
For years, companies investing in technology to extract water, precious rocks and metals in space have operated in a regulatory grey zone under the aegis of a treaty written in the cold war, which makes no mention of property rights.
But when former US president Barack Obama fired the starting gun on regulatory changes in 2015, by guaranteeing private companies rights to own, sell and profit from resources extracted from asteroids and other “celestial bodies”, other countries scrambled to follow suit.
In August, Luxembourg became the first European country that officially allows space resources to be “appropriated” by commercial groups based in the country. Deputy prime minister Etienne Schneider, who signed the law, says the idea was to attract a lucrative new space industry away from the US.
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