April 30, 2013 -- Want to own a little piece of heaven? It's yours, starting at $19.99 an acre--on the moon. If you prefer, you can buy property on Venus or Mercury.
Mercury is nice this time of year. The temperature tops 700 degrees but they say it's a dry heat.
If that's still too close to the hustle and bustle of Earth, there's Mars--33.9 million miles from Times Square. A deed, with your name on it, to a prime-view one acre lot on Mars will set you back $22.49, plus tax, plus shipping (not from Mars) and handling.
The man selling these lots is Dennis Hope, founder and owner of Lunar Embassy Corp of Gardnerville, Nev., which claims to hold the property rights to several heavenly bodies. How many? "Nine altogether," says Hope brightly. "When we started, Pluto was still considered a planet."
That was 1968. At the time, Hope was unemployed, hadn't worked for a year, was getting divorced and lived in San Francisco. Things looked bad. He remembers thinking that if only he only had property, things might be better. "Then I saw the moon," he recalls. "I thought, there's a lot of property up there."
He discovered that little stood between him and ownership—hardly more than stood between proud Cortez and, say, and Mexico, once the intrepid Spaniard had taken a shine to it.
Hope consulted what was—and is—the governing document of outer space, the "Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies," known for short as the Outer Space Treaty.
While the Treaty explicitly forbids the nations of Earth from making territorial claims on other planets, it does not address what claims might legally be made by private companies—a possibility not imagined in 1968.
Hope asked three lawyers whether or not he could assert development rights to the moon. Two told him they didn't know. The third said, "Oh, sure, why not?" Hope was off and running. He has never received, he says, a challenge to his right to sell space real estate from any terrestrial government.
From peddling moon acreage, Hope branched out to the other properties in his nine-planet portfolio.
It's the moon that's been his biggest seller to date. Why? "You can look at it," he points out. "It's all view property." Still, by his own estimate, he has sold only about 7.5 percent of the moon so far—"600 million and 11 acres." That compares to his having sold just 325 million acres of Mars.
Planetary properties he has sold range in size from a single acre, on up to nation-sized parcels. The buyers of the biggest parcels, he claims, have included 1,800 corporations, including two leading U.S. hotel chains. "The very biggest property we've sold was 2.66 million acres. We sold that for $45,000. Today, that same parcel could run you $2.66 million."
Hope has drafted a lunar constitution. As the moon's representative, he says, he has established relations with some 30 earthly nations. He has issued a lunar currency and has made overtures for the moon to join the International Monetary Fund.
As Hope's website makes clear, he is far from being an unscrupulous salesman. There are things—23 of them, to be precise—he will not sell, for any price.
These include, on the moon, the Apollo landing sites.
On Mars, sites not for sale and off limits are addressed under the Frequently Asked Questions portion of Hope's website, which asks:
The property referred to is a topographical feature photographed by NASA. Early images of the parcel showed what appeared to be a giant rock formation in the shape of a human face, with pyramid-shaped structures nearby it. One faction of space enthusiasts has argued that these features are the work of intelligent life. NASA's position is that the face and the pyramids are illusions cast by shadow.
Explains Hope's website:
"Unfortunately, certain places on Mars are not for sale because we firmly believe that they should remain for the good of all Mankind. This includes the famous "Face on Mars," as well as the "Pyramids on Mars." It would be irresponsible of the Lunar Embassy to sell these historic areas of general interest."