George Bush’s plan to establish a manned United States base on the Moon by 2020 has been hailed as visionary, but to hear Dennis Hope talk, the president’s behind the times — a Manifest Destiny-style space land grab is already in full swing.

Hope, the self-anointed “Head Cheese” and founder of the Lunar Embassy company, claims land rights to the moon, Mars, Venus, and a slew of other celestial bodies. To cash in on his apparent coup, he has appointed middlemen (“Lunar Ambassadors”) to parcel his space booty out to millions of Internet buyers. Forget naming a star after your significant other — for $19.99, Hope says, you can stake claim to one acre of lunar terrain and start saving up for a love nest with a view of Tycho Crater.

How can one guy snap up much of the potentially habitable land in the solar system? The answer, according to Hope: a couple of international-law loopholes. While the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty states that territories beyond the Earth cannot be owned by national governments, the treaty does not specifically prohibit private individuals from making such claims. The UN attempted to remedy the omission in the 1979 Moon Treaty, but the new treaty was not ratified. One year after the Moon Treaty flopped, Hope wrote to the United States government, the Russian government, and the UN to declare his ownership of the moon. “If someone finds an unclaimed parcel of land and demonstrates intent to occupy, it’s theirs,” he says. However, Brian Chase, executive director of the National Space Society, dismisses Hope?s hopeful logic, since no national or international governing body has ever formally recognized the Lunar Embassy?s claims.

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