Rand Simberg wonders:
Despite the progress in technology, and the appeal of valuable resources, space settlement has been hampered by the lack of a clearly defined legal regime for recognizing property rights in space under current U.S. and international law.
There is in fact some slight internationally recognized legal precedent for retaining ownership of resources mined in space, as lunar samples returned to Earth on both U.S. and Soviet missions (the latter robotically) have been exchanged for other tokens of value. But actually owning the portion of the celestial body from which the resources are harvested — as in a traditional mining claim — is more problematic. Without legally recognized rights to buy, own, and sell titled property, it is difficult if not impossible to raise capital to develop land or extract the resources it holds. Property rights have long been considered one of the pillars of prosperity in the modern world, and their absence in space — due to the contingencies of the history of international law during the early space age — partly explains why we have not yet developed that final frontier.