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The Moon May Soon Face an American Frontier-Era Land Rush

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A lunar eclipse over London.

As the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing passes, a 21st-century space race is heating up. Private firms like SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace, along with a growing number of national space agencies, are eyeing a manned return to the moon, with an emphasis on settlement rather than exploration. Blue Origin, the firm owned by Jeff Bezos, announced last year its plan to initiate lunar settlement by 2023. Similarly, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans to send astronauts to the moon in 2024 in preparation for an eventual base.

Many proposals stick a base on a lunar pole, where humans could benefit from a near-constant supply of solar power and relatively easy access to ice. At first, the settlement will likely house a few scientists and possibly some private employees, on government contract to maintain any specialized equipment or infrastructure provided by space companies. In time, the base will begin to house others as well—people looking to make a life, or a fortune, for themselves in space.

The scientists and company employees already on a lunar base may see opportunity even if they originally went there for altruistic purposes. As the settlement changes, they might think, property values are rising on Earth, so why not in space? Anyone on the moon prior to a land rush—let’s call them Lunar Sooners, in a nod to homesteaders who jumped the gun during the settlement of Oklahoma—would have a clear advantage to stake claims on the limited real estate near the established settlement.

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