The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Moonstruck' Eclipse greed

New Delhi, Dec. 4: Land sharks, don't go over the moon yet.

The new space race ' more crowded now than it was back in the 1960s ' has spurred scientists to ask nations to commit themselves to treating the moon as a 'common heritage of mankind'.

Space scientists from 17 countries have released a statement ' the Udaipur Declaration ' that calls on nations to 'revisit and refine' the 35-year-old Moon Treaty and to collaborate in a way not seen before in the exploration of the moon.

The declaration capped a five-day conference in Udaipur last week on the exploration and utilisation of the moon, organised by the Indian Space Research Organisation, the European Space Agency and the International Lunar Exploration Working Group.

While the US and Russia competed in the lunar race of the 1960s, China, Europe, Japan and India will all send orbiters to the moon between now and 2010. India's Chandrayaan-1 is expected to fly in 2007.

Some scientists are concerned that given the fresh impetus to lunar missions and the likely rewards, human bases may also give way to claims of ownership to chunks of lunar real estate.

'This problem may come up after permanent bases are set up,' said Narender Bhandari, a scientist at the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, and the president of the International Lunar Exploration Working Group.

'One suggestion was that any permanent base should have personnel from different countries,' he said.

The scientists have also asked space agencies to coordinate with each other in building lunar assets and infrastructure such as telecom systems ' including a lunar Internet ' and navigation systems.

'A major goal is to get countries to share data,' Bhandari told The Telegraph. 'For this, missions from different countries will have to use common data formats which can be interpreted by others.'

The Moon Treaty codified in December 1979 says the moon and its resources are the 'common heritage of Mankind' and no part of it can be claimed by government, inter-government, NGOs or by individuals.

However, some private organisations have been offering real estate on the moon.

Space scientists have cautioned that the rush to the moon has created a need for collaboration to avoid duplication of efforts. While scientists appear willing to collaborate, a US delegate at the conference had told The Telegraph 'such joint work needs to be encouraged by policy-makers'.

While existing lunar missions are aimed at exploration and solving lunar science puzzles, scientists say that the moon may also be a source of helium-3, a potential futuristic source of fuel.

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