By Max Bonnell King & Wood Mallesons’ Sydney Office

bonnell_mOn 16 February 2015, the Mars One mission announced the first 100 finalists, the “Mars 100”, from the Astronaut Selection Process. These 100 hopefuls have been shortlisted for a mission to Mars to establish a permanent human settlement by 2025. Amidst the buzz surrounding the announcement of these inspiring pioneers one pivotal question arises: who will own Mars?

In a field that is regulated by public international law and a handful of treaties, it is doubtful that anyone ever truly contemplated that the colonisation of Mars would be attempted by a private not-for-profit entity funded, in part, by Indiegogo crowd funding and a reality television series. Space travel costs billions of dollars for a single mission and it requires a wealth of knowledge, expertise and specialist equipment. The Mars One mission also requires 50 human volunteers for a one-way journey to a desolate planet. And yet, against all the odds, Mars One has achieved this critical milestone. A Martian colony no longer feels light-years away, giving rise to all sorts of interesting questions: Can a private company claim ownership of Mars? Will the first Martians be subject to the laws of Earth? Who will have the rights to mine on Mars? Will Mars be legally recognised as a separate state?

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