While countries are still contemplating on putting space laws in place, in 1977, Adam Ismail, Mustafa Khalil and Abdullah al-umari filed a lawsuit claiming that they had Inherited Mars, (yes the entire planet) from their ancestors 3,000 years ago.
NASA and its Achievements
NASA is one of the most prestigious and successful space agencies in the world. Since its foundation in 1958, NASA was supposed to have a distinctly civilian orientation, encouraging peaceful applications in space science. They have literally made out of this world discoveries. One of those discoveries was the discovery of the solar system that Earth is a part of.
While sending astronauts on Venus has not been explored manually, a Soviet spacecraft called Venera 7 was the first spacecraft to land on another planet on 15th December 1970. Soon, astronauts started thinking of exploring Mars, another neighbor of Earth. But exploring Mars seemed a bit more difficult not only because we had little to no information about it but also because three men from Yemen sued NASA in 1997 for landing a rover on Mars.
Himyarites and Sabaeans
As bizarre as it is, Adam Ismail, Mustafa Khalil, and Abdullah al-Umari claimed that Mars is their ancestral property. They claimed that they are descended from the Himyarites and Sabaeans. These are the ethnic groups who lived in southern Arabia and according to their mythologies, these forgotten civilizations had seven temples on each of the planets in our solar system.
The Himyarite Kingdom was referred to as the Homerite Kingdom by the Greeks as well as Romans. The people belonging to this kingdom were settled in the southern highlands of Yemen. It was integrated with the Qatabanian kingdom till 110 BCE but became independent soon. Their capital was called Zafar which is not known as Sana’a. Whereas, the Sabaeans were ancient Arabian people of South Arabia. They found the kingdom of Saba’ which was said to be the biblical land of Sheba, a kingdom which is mentioned in the Quran and Hebrew Bible. Since Saba was next to the Himyarite kingdom, the Himyarites conquered it as well.
Yemen Men's Claims
The three men claimed that their ancestors belonged to these ancient and biblical kingdoms. They gave a statement to the weekly Arabic newspaper Al-Thawri which said “We inherited the planet from our ancestors 3,000 years ago.” The tri had also presented “legal” documents that support their claim. This alleged legal document was seen only by the prosecutor. After seeing the document, the case was thrown out. He described the men as “abnormal” and warned them that they will be jailed if they tried to sue for the same reason again.
The suit was filed in Sana’a, Yemen, but there was no proof as to whether the men paid the appropriate inheritance taxes. Makes us wonder what does even a document proving ownership of a planet even looks like. The reason for filing a lawsuit against NASA was its exploration of Mars by the Pathfinder and Sojourner missions. It was reported in CNN that the men said “Sojourner and Pathfinder, which are owned by the United States government, landed on Mars and began exploring it without informing us or seeking our approval.”
The First Mars Rovers
Mars Pathfinder is NASA’s robotic spacecraft that landed a base station that consisted of a roving probe on Mars in 1997. The spacecraft consisted of a lander named the Carl Sagan Memorial Station and a lightweight robot that had wheels named Sojourner. It became the first rover to operate outside of the Earth-Moon system.
This may have irked the Yemen men and as a result, the lawsuit was filed and they even demanded that the explorations of Mars at the time must be stopped. Can you imagine if they had succeeded in their ridiculous lawsuit, we wouldn’t have the stunning images of Mars given to us by Perseverance? They said that all further plans of exploring Mars should go through them. The trio also said that they claim their ownership of the planet now because of the anniversary of several of their ancient city’s foundations and because they needed the money to refurbish the cities. Honestly, what were they thinking?
The Outer Space Treaty
What’s more absurd is that the Yemen trio’s story didn’t end with the dismissal of the lawsuit. After the lawsuit was dismissed, they started selling pieces of Mars for $2 per square meter! How could you sell something that isn’t even yours? They even went and assured the buyers that they would issue a deed of ownership for their new property. Unlike today where you can have stars named after yourself or a loved one, there was no facility or law back in the ’90s where a person would own a piece of a planet let alone the entire planet.
Why was it not possible to own a planet and still isn’t? It’s because of the Outer Space Treaty which was issued by the United States in 1967. The treaty is formally known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. That’s a huge name so we are going to stuck with the simple Outer Space Treaty. Much like any law on Earth, this treaty formed the basis of international space law. Along with the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union signed the treaty on 27th January 1967 and came into force on 10th October 1967. As of 2021, 111 countries are parties to the treaty, 23 of which have signed the treaty but have not completed ratification.
So, you see, no person or a country can lay claim on any planet. Even with the treaty in place, a few have tried to claims certain extra-terrestrial estates. Sylvio Lanevin, declared that he owns, not one, but all of the planets in our solar system. Quite ambitious. Another man named Dennis Hope claimed that he owned the moon back in the 1980s. He also claimed that he has sold over 2 million acres of land on the moon for $20 per acre. The “Nation of Celestial Space” claimed that they own everything in space. Sorry folks, it’s just not happening. Not for some decades at least. It may be possible in the future but for now, it’s impossible.