In 2001, when its NEAR Shoemaker space probe landed on asteroid 433 Eros, NASA received a $20 parking ticket from Gregory W. Nemitz, who had claimed ownership of the asteroid 11 months earlier.
There followed a slowly escalating legal war. NASA’s lawyer told Nemitz that his claim appeared to have no foundation in law, so he appealed to the State Department, which agreed that his claim was without legal basis. Nemitz demanded a federal jury trial for “breach of implied contract.” The case was dismissed, but Nemitz still asked for a declaratory judgement concerning his right to own private property in space. The court dismissed his claim in 2005.
Proponents argue that only property rights in space will motivate entrepreneurs to pursue exploration. “Space development and settlement will not happen if it’s internationally taxed and controlled,” attorney Wayne White told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005. “I think space settlement is a social ‘release valve’ that we desperately need. … It’s only going to get more crowded here on Earth.”