As a 26-year-old rapper worth an estimated $16 million, there isn’t a whole lot that you can’t do.
You can adorn your forehead with a $24 million pink diamond piercing, get a new tongue tattoo ... and maybe even buy a planet.
Well, that last part is still in question.
Emo rapper Lil Uzi Vert’s announcement that he is in the process of buying a planet left a lot of people wondering, “wait, can you actually do that?” And while the answer may be a solid no for right now, that may soon change as space entrepreneurs with cash to spare begin eyeing celestial objects as private property.
“It’s so much fun to be a space lawyer right now,” Michelle Hanlon, co-Director of the Center for Air and Space Law at the University of Mississippi, tells Inverse of the new batch of questions that have arisen in the last few years ... like a Soundcloud rapper turned superstar buying a planet.
Hanlon believes that there needs to be some sort of regime in space similar to property laws on Earth to set boundaries.
“Anybody who is interested in the exploration and use of space has to recognize that we need to figure out some way to sort of share it and prevent conflicts,” Hanlon says.
Can you buy a planet?
Last week, Canadian musician and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s partner Grimes announced that Lil Uzi Vert was in the process of buying planet WASP-127 b.
WASP-127 b is a gas giant exoplanet discovered in 2016 and is located about 500 light years away from Earth.
The pair’s exchange on Twitter may have laid claim to this planet, but in reality, the lil’ rapper cannot own the big ol’ planet.
The outer space treaty of 1967 states that a state party cannot claim any territory in outer space. Although it doesn’t exclusively say that individuals can’t own property in space, article six of the outer space treaty says that nations will supervise the activities of their citizens.
“Nobody can own space,” Hanlon says. “That's the fundamental concept.”
But what if Musk gets to Mars before anyone else does and lays claim to the Red Planet. What’s going to stop him?
Well, Musk is a citizen of the United States, and therefore U.S. law would apply to him so long as he is still forced to be reliant on his home planet, Earth.
“This privatization of space is going to be very tempered by the fact that all these people are going to be tethered to Earth for a long time,” Hanlon explains. “It's going to be a long time before we have an independent human community beyond Earth.”
But Musk’s Starlink terms of agreement state, “For services provided on Mars, or in transit to Mars via Starship, or other colonization spacecraft, the parties recognize Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities. Accordingly, disputes will be settled through self-governing principles, established in good faith, at the time of Martian settlement.”
So with some good legal counsel, Musk may have found a loophole around the current system in place. But would it work in practice?
Who decides the ownership of space?
This isn’t the first time that individuals have tried to lay claim on objects in space.
- In 2001, space enthusiast Gregory W. Nemitz issued a $20 parking ticket to NASA for landing on an asteroid that he had claimed ownership of
- Meanwhile, others have bought plots of land on the Moon
- Dennis Hope has reportedly sold over 16 billion acres of real estate on the Moon to over seven million people from 197 different countries through his company Lunar Embassy
Space law experts recognize that the current law needs to be updated as more private space entrepreneurs with way more power — and cash — venture out into the cosmos.
Ram Jakhu, professor of international space law at McGill University, says that if the laws aren’t properly implemented, it would be “terribly dangerous” for everyone.
Jakhu compares it to the 14th century British East India Company, which took hold of large parts of the Indian subcontinent and ruled the territory for nearly 100 years simply because there were no laws in place to govern it.
“It’s not difficult to imagine the damage,” Jakhu says.
Instead, space lawyers agree that a nation or an individual can use the resources of a celestial object without owning it.
“You can extract resources from space, and use those and make them your own and sell them or do whatever you want,” Hanlon says.
But it’s still unclear what Lil Uzi Vert plans to accomplish with his claim of owning WASP-127b or whether the planet’s purchase claim was overshadowed by the rapper finding out his real age upon recovering his birth certificate.