10/31/2011 02:13 pm ET | Updated Dec 28, 2011

Whose Moon Is It, Anyway?

Robert Bigelow is a billionaire and longtime proponent of getting private companies to invest in space exploration. He caused a ripple in the news recently by suggesting that China may attempt a lunar land grab in a few more years.

Bigelow voiced his concerns at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in New Mexico. The future he foresees would have the Chinese on the Moon and conducting detailed surveys of the terrain in the mid 2020s. Left unchallenged, he believes they might eventually decide to withdraw from the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and claim sole possession of the whole lunar enchilada.

Other experts are skeptical of this scenario. Bigelow says he's trying to get the U.S. re-energized about manned space travel so we don't get left behind by the competition. The big question is: how would average citizens in 2026 react if China announced a takeover of that little ball roaming around the sky?

In fact, a significant number of Americans might be outraged because they consider themselves part-owners of the Moon right now. If you're not familiar with non-Earthly land opportunities (they've been around for decades), thanks to the Internet potential buyers can now shop quickly and easily in cyberspace.

Just type "lunar real estate" into your search engine and faster than you can say "Robert Heinlein" a small constellation of extra-terrestrial purchasing opportunities and background information will pop onscreen.

At Lunar Properties, they proclaim, "Lowest-priced Moon real estate on the web!" You can snap up 2.47 acre lots for just $29.99 and that price includes free shipping. No, you're not getting crates of rocks; the free shipping is for the "Official Moon Real Estate Documents." And be sure your jaw muscles are ready for a workout because "a Moon property claim is sure to be an exciting conversation piece."

If topographical features are your top priority then check out Lunar Registry, where the motto is, "Nothing could be greater than to own your own crater!" Prime lots on the Sea of Vapors are available for $18.95/acre and that price includes "full mineral rights (including Helium-3)." The certificates from this outfit are "professionally designed, elegantly printed and" -- can you guess? -- "make a great conversation piece when framed in your home of office."

Do you have friends in other countries who want a piece of the Big Green Cheese? They'd feel welcome at Lunar Embassy, where service is available in a range of languages including Latvian and New Zealand English. The firm claims to be, "The only recognized world authority for the sale of lunar and other planetary real estate (including Mars)." In 2009, Lunar Embassy founder Dennis Hope told National Geographic he'd sold property on the Moon and other planets to more than 3 million people. He also offers a 30-day return policy "if you are not completely satisfied with your product."

So China had better walk softly on issues of lunar legality. If they ever assert ownership of our celestial companion I can foresee some of the current property claimants banding together, hiring a high-powered lawyer and taking a class action suit to the world court.

However, one potential problem for the plaintiffs in such a case is clearly visible to the naked eye: with several brokers selling Moon property, how can customers be sure the acreage they've purchased hasn't already been sold by a competing firm? Multiple ownership could create a terribly awkward situation in a legal proceeding, and also when a friend walks into your home or office, takes a look at the elegantly framed certificate hanging on the wall and exclaims, "Dude! That's my crater!"

Definitely not a good way to start a conversation anywhere in the galaxy.