Discovery News reports today that “companies want a piece of the Moon.”
“Corporations are interested in partnering with NASA for lunar and other deep-space initiatives,” says Discovery, “but will want property rights in exchange, a NASA-commissioned report released on Tuesday shows.”
I cannot find this report online, as yet…. (NASA? Bigelow? Where is it?)
NewSpace Journal quotes the report: “America is facing a fiscal crisis of unprecedented proportions making the likelihood of increased funds for human space exploration highly unlikely,” states an advance copy of the report provided by the company. “Therefore, the only viable option for the U.S. to reach cislunar space is to leverage the efficiencies, innovations, and investments of commercial enterprises.”
National Geographic reports on the same report, “Moon mining rush ahead? A commercial space company [Bigelow] wants the U.S. government to give it lunar mining rights.” NatGeo says Bigelow Aerospace president Robert Bigelow has “called for the Federal Aviation Administration to allow property rights for lunar mining.”
The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation says its mission is “to ensure protection of the public, property, and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States during commercial launch or reentry activities, and to encourage, facilitate, and promote U.S. commercial space transportation.” I’m not sure why the FAA would be the place to go in government for validation of private property rights in space. It seems to be that the Department of State would be a more logical place. Just a thought….
NASA and Bigelow signed a “no exchange of funds” Space Act agreement in March for “beyond Earth orbit human space exploration and development.” The purpose of the agreement is “to facilitate and explore, in a manner that meets both national and commercial goals and objectives, joint public/private arrangements that would continue to build the ability for humans to live and work in space through the expansion of exploration capabilities beyond Earth orbit.” (Thanks to SpaceRef for the link to this document.) For those who are not familiar with Space Act agreements, they do not allow NASA to make cash contributions to commercial partners but they do allow NASA to make considerable in-kind contributions to those partners on behalf of U.S. taxpayers.
“Commercial goals and objectives” boil down to a single aim: making money. The U.S. government has a legitimate role in promoting economic development. I would hope that the sorts of economic development our government promotes would benefit citizens. Mining on Earth has been hugely profitable for corporations, a critical element of economic development (building materials, energy resources, etc.) and deeply hurtful to the environment and to local communities harmed by pollution and exploitation. I can’t see how mining extraterrestrial resources would benefit citizens – except for those believers who think humankind is destined to populate outer space. As Ricky Ricardo used to say, “’Splain.”
For the record, here are Articles I and II of the 1967 United Nations Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies:
The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.
Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies.
There shall be freedom of scientific investigation in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and States shall facilitate and encourage international co-operation in such investigation.
Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”
In my view, the treaty – which is the law of the land according to the U.S. Constitution – prohibits private property claims in space. Lawyers and others have been arguing about this point for decades. (Bigelow’s lawyer Mike Gold, among others, would no doubt argue strenuously that I am wrong. I would argue that my perspective is valid.) I hope that neither the U.S. government nor any other government advocates for allowing corporations to “own” parts (including resources) of the Moon or any other celestial bodies. Do we want to live in a “Snow Crash” world where megacorporations take over the roles of nation states? I surely don’t. We’re already too far gone down that road, and it’s time to stop.