Lunar prospector? Billionaire wants claims staked on the moon

Steven Portnoy, Richard Coolidge and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

 Power Players

Hotel mogul Robert Bigelow built his career on developing affordable hotel chains here on Earth. And now he has his sights set on expanding his empire to galactic heights: the moon.

Bigelow, the CEO of Bigelow Aerospace, is asking the U.S. government to establish a framework for lunar property rights.

“We think from a business standpoint it provides a foundation of confidence and security,” Bigelow told “Power Players” of his desire for the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation to work toward allowing people to stake claims on the moon.

It would require an amendment to a treaty enacted at the height of the space race in 1967, when the U.S. and Soviet Union each feared the other might try to dominate outer space and use the moon for military purposes.

Bigelow’s company is in the process of building vessels that he hopes will make it possible for ordinary people to travel to and live in space.

“Our business is providing affordable, reliable habitats, whether they are on the surface of the moon or somewhere in between in low Earth orbit,” he said, describing the vessels as “expandable structures that have an element like the steel belts in your tires.”

Bigelow says his dream of making space travel more accessible is not far from becoming reality.

“We have made a lot of progress in creating this vessel, and we will have two full-scale vessels to launch by the end of 2016,” he said.

While Bigelow’s company is focused on building “expandable vessels” for now, he’s also interested in establishing a colony on the moon – and doesn’t rule out the possibility of mining.

“We want to be prepared in case we have clients who say, ‘Look, we want do a lot more,’” he said. “We are interested in doing a lot more, we want to establish a much larger base, we want to do mining operations. … We need to have a legal regime that protects those resources.”

Currently, as Bigelow readily admits, his company has no clients. And he said he has “no idea” how many people might actually be interested in traveling to the moon.

He also said Americans should be “very nervous” about China’s ambitions in space, including its current mission to put Chinese astronauts on the moon.

“Nobody here is really caring or looking,” he said. “What's been the past signature of China? It is to have control, it is to dominate markets. It's not much a leap to imagine that they would want to have ownership.”

For more of the interview with Bigelow, and to hear why he says the moon is only an intermediate step to deeper space travel, check out this episode of “Power Players.”

ABC News’ Gina Sunseri, Alexandra Dukakis, Tom Thornton, Melissa Young and Gale Marcus contributed to this episode.