Numerous missions planned for the next decade are likely to target a handful of small sites of interest on the Moon's surface, creating risks of crowding and interference at these locations. The Moon presents finite and scarce areas with rare topography or concentrations of resources of special value. Locations of interest to science, notably for astronomy, include the Peaks of Eternal Light, the coldest of the cold traps and smooth areas on the far side. Regions richest in physical resources could also be uniquely suited to settlement and commerce. Such sites of interest are both few and small. Typically, there are fewer than ten key sites of each type, each site spanning a few kilometres across. We survey the implications for different kinds of mission and find that the diverse actors pursuing incompatible ends at these sites could soon crowd and interfere with each other, leaving almost all actors worse off. Without proactive measures to prevent these outcomes, lunar actors are likely to experience significant losses of opportunity. We highlight the legal, policy and ethical ramifications. Insights from research on comparable sites on Earth present a path toward managing lunar crowding and interference grounded in ethical and practical near-term considerations.

This article is part of a discussion meeting issue ‘Astronomy from the Moon: the next decades'.


History and Political Science

Research Center/Lab(s)

Center for Science, Technology, and Society

Second Research Center/Lab

Intelligent Systems Center


The T.M. contribution to the publication was supported by King’s College London, with an International Collaborations grant connected to the Cosmological Visionaries project. M.E. thanks the Aspen Center for Physics, funded by NSF grant no. 1066293, for their hospitality when this paper was initiated. A.K.’s contribution was enabled by a 2018 University of Missouri Research Board grant for the Aircraft, Spacecraft, and Statecraft project.

Keywords and Phrases

Moon; Resources; Astronomy; Law; Policy; Governance; Space Exploration

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

1364-503X; 1471-2962

Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version

Final Version

File Type





© 2021 The Authors, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

11 Jan 2021