Most seemingly, that is the best-known image of a flag ever taken: Buzz Aldrin standing subsequent to the first U.S. flag planted on the moon. For those that knew their world historical past, it additionally rang some alarm bells. Only lower than a century in the past, again on Earth, planting a nationwide flag in one other a part of the world nonetheless amounted to claiming that territory for the fatherland. Did the Stars and Stripes on the moon signify the institution of an American colony?
When folks hear for the first time that I’m a lawyer working towards and instructing one thing known as “space law,” the query they ask most regularly, usually with a giant smile or a twinkle in the eye, is: “So tell me, who owns the moon?”
Of course, claiming new nationwide territories had been very a lot a European behavior, utilized to non-European components of the world. In specific, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the French, and the English created big colonial empires. But whereas their angle was very Europe-centric, the authorized notion that planting a flag was an act of creating sovereignty shortly caught and have become accepted worldwide as half and parcel of the legislation of countries.
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Obviously, the astronauts had extra vital issues on their thoughts than considering the authorized which means and penalties of that planted flag, however fortunately the concern had been taken care of previous to the mission. Since the starting of the house race, the United States knew that for many individuals round the world the sight of a US flag on the Moon would increase main political points. Any suggestion that the moon may grow to be, legally talking, a part of US backwaters may gas such considerations, and presumably give rise to worldwide disputes dangerous to each the US house program and US pursuits as a complete.