Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



A hit from some years ago -- "The moon belongs to every-one" -- came to have special significance for a group of Vanderbilt Law students during the spring of 1967. For the members of the Vanderbilt International Moot Court Team under the guidance of their faculty advisor, Professor Harold Maier, researching, understanding and articulating the international legal arguments on both sides of that musical thesis became the sport of the day. Happily, their endeavors were rewarded on April 29, when Vanderbilt won the National Championship by defeating the team from Harvard Law School in the final round of the fifth annual Jessup International Moot Tribunal Competition.

The major question posed involved a claim of territorial sovereignty over a portion of the lunar surface. In the hypothetical fact situation, France had achieved a successful lunar landing in a spaceship supplied them by the Soviet Union. Immediately after landing on the moon the French claimed sovereignty over a designated area of the surface. Some months later while a second French expedition was on the moon, the United States achieved its first successful landing. Several of the American astronauts ventured onto the area claimed by France, but were forced by French space travelers to leave a short time later. They withdrew as asked, but carried with them some mineral samples taken from the "French" territory. On the return flight to earth the United States spacecraft malfunctioned and was forced to land in the Indian Ocean where the Americans were rescued by--you guessed it!--a French warship. French customs authorities subsequently seized the mineral samples carried by the Americans. All of these events transpired after both the United States and France had signed, and the United States had ratified, an Outer Space Treaty which guaranteed freedom of movement and exploration in outer space and prohibited national claims of territorial sovereignty in space. So, the United States brought a claim against France before the International Court of Justice to get back the mineral samples. A most interesting "case" and perhaps not sound likely when considered in light of recent successful launchings by the United States and Russia, the ratification by the United States Senate of the Outer Space Treaty, and the determinedly independent stance of France in international affairs.