The Moon
The moon

A leading scientist has said that there is a "strong case" for changing international law to allow private companies to mine the moon.

A 1967 UN law bans countries from "appropriating the moon," but Ian Crawford, professor of planetary science at Birkbeck College, said that in future the law should be amended, allowing countries to extract the planet's minerals.

"Nobody owns the moon," he said.

But, he added: "There's a strong case for developing international law in this area because in 1967 it was not envisaged that anyone other than nation states would be able to explore the moon. Clearly that is changing now and there is a case for developing the outer space treaty to include private organisations that may wish to exploit the moon."

He emphasised that we must first understand the planet better, before any mining can be undertaken.

"The moon may well have resources that are economically valuable but we are still in an era of scientific exploration and once we have explored the moon in more detail we will know.

"If we are going to explore the moon that does necessitate interfering with the lunar environment, but the initial stages will be much less invasive than strip-mining the moon for its natural resources.

"The key thing for the next few decades is to explore the moon in more detail and then we will know if it has got resources that are economically valuable."

Last year, China made its first moon landing, and one of the country's top scientists said that the moon could be a "beautiful" source of minerals and energy.

"The moon is full of resources - mainly rare earth elements, titanium, and uranium, which Earth is really short of, and these resources can be used without limitation," said Prof Ouyang Ziyuan of the department of lunar and deep space exploration.

Organisations are focusing on developing the technology to make moon mining a reality.

Recently, Nasa teamed up with heavy equipment company Caterpillar Inc to develop drilling and mining technology that could be used in space.

Robert Bigelow, of private space company Bigelow aerospace Inc, has called for the US government to push for companies to be granted space mining rights, in exchange for their assistance on Nasa space exploration projects.

Google recently offered a $420 million reward to the first private company to land a vehicle on the moon and travel across its surface.