An artist's illustration of SpaceX's Dragon capsule entering the Martian atmosphere. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX Calls In The Lawyers For 2018 Mars Shot

Article written: 20 May , 2016
Updated: 13 Jun , 2016
by

A manned mission to Mars is a hot topic in space, and has been for a long time. Most of the talk around it has centred on the required technology, astronaut durability, and the overall feasibility of the mission. But now, some of the talk is focussing on the legal framework behind such a mission.

In April 2016, SpaceX announced their plans for a 2018 mission to Mars. Though astronauts will not be part of the mission, several key technologies will be demonstrated. SpaceX’s Dragon capsule will make the trip to Mars, and will conduct a powered, soft landing on the surface of the red planet. The capsule itself will be launched by another new piece of technology, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.

It’s a fascinating development in space exploration; a private space company, in cooperation with NASA, making the trip to Mars with all of its own in-house technology. But above and beyond all of the technological challenges, there is the challenge of making the whole endeavour legal.

Though it’s not widely known or talked about, there are legal implications to launching things into space. In the US, each and every launch by a private company has to have clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
That’s because the US signed the Outer Space Treaty in 1969, a treaty that sets out the obligations and limitations to activities in space. The FAA has routinely given their ascent to commercial launches, but things may be starting to get a little tricky in space.

The most recent Humans To Mars Summit, a conference focussed on Mars missions and explorations, just wrapped up on May 19th. At that conference, George Nield, associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the FAA, addressed the issue. “That’ll be an FAA licensed launch as well,” said Nield of the SpaceX mission to Mars. “We’re already working with SpaceX on that mission,” he added. “There are some interesting policy questions that have to do with the Outer Space Treaty,” said Nield.

The Outer Space Treaty was signed in 1967, and has some sway over space exploration and colonization. Though it gives wide latitude to governments that are exploring space, how it will affect commercial activity like resource exploitation, and installations like settlements in other planets, is not so clear.

An artist's illustration of a Mars settlement. If a private company like SpaceX were to build a colony on Mars, would other countries cry foul? Image: Bryan Versteeg/MarsOne

An artist’s illustration of a Mars settlement. If a private company like SpaceX were to build a colony on Mars, would other countries cry foul? Image: Bryan Versteeg/MarsOne

According to Nield, the FAA is interested in Article VI of the treaty and how it might impact SpaceX’s planned mission to Mars. Article VI states that all signees to the treaty “shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities.”

Article VI also says, “the activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty.”

What this language means is that the US government itself will bear responsibility for the SpaceX Mars mission. Obviously, this kind of treaty obligation is important. There isn’t exactly a huge list of private companies exploring space, but that will change as the years pass. It seems likely that the bulk of commercial space exploration and resource utilization will be centred in the US, so how the US deals with their treaty obligations will be of immense interest now and in the future.

The treaty itself is mostly focused on avoiding military activity in space. It prohibits things like weapons of mass destruction in space, and weapons testing or military bases on the Moon or other celestial bodies. The treaty also states that the Moon and other planets and bodies cannot be claimed by any nation, and that these and other bodies “are the common heritage of mankind.” Good to know.

Taken as a whole, it’s easy to see why the Treaty is important. Space can’t become a free-for-all like Earth has been in the past. There has to be some kind of framework. “A government needs to oversee these non-governmental activities,” according to Nield.

There’s another aspect to all of this. Governments routinely sign treaties, and then try to figure out ways around them, while hoping their rivals won’t do the same. It’s a sneaky, tactical business, because governments can’t grossly ignore treaties, else the other co-signatories abandon said treaty completely. A case in point is last year’s law, signed by the US Congress, which makes it legal for companies to mine asteroids. This law could be interpreted as violating the Treaty.

The image of the American flag planted on the Moon, being saluted by an American astronaut, must have caused great consternation in the Kremlin. Will SpaceX's mission to Mars cause the same consternation? Will Russia and other nations use the mission to remind the US of their Outer Space Treaty obligations? Image: NASA

The US won the space race against its adversary, the USSR. The image of the American flag planted on the Moon, being saluted by an American astronaut, must have caused great consternation in the Kremlin. Will SpaceX’s mission to Mars cause the same consternation? Will Russia and other nations use the mission to remind the US of their Outer Space Treaty obligations? Image: NASA

Governments can claim, for instance, that their activities are scientific rather than military. Geo-political influence depends greatly on projecting power. If one nation can project power into space, while claiming their activities are scientific rather than military, they will gain an edge over their rivals. Countries also seek to bend the rules of a treaty to satisfy their own interests, while preventing other countries from doing the same. Just look at history.

We’re not in that type of territory yet. So far, no nation has had an opportunity to really violate the treaty, though the asteroid mining law passed by the US Congress comes close.

The SpaceX mission to Mars is a very important one, in terms of how the Outer Space Treaty will be tested and adhered to. More and more countries, and private companies, are becoming space-farers. The legality of increasingly complex missions in space, and the eventual human presence on the Moon and Mars, is a fascinating one not usually addressed by the space science community.

We in the space science community are primarily interested in technological advances, and in the frontiers of human knowledge. It might be time for us to start paying attention to the legal side of things. Space exploration could turn out to have an element of courtroom drama to it.

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53 Responses

  1. Why can’t I post this on facebook? Get with the times. Tried to publish it to http://www.facebook.com/groups/ElonMusk but the link doesn’t work!

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  2. Aria says

    Space exploration should be made in the name of all humanity and not via the sycophantic or obsequious behaviour of corporate entities. Vigilantism allowed by the US Government, in dumping its international and enforceable obligations without caring about any apparent or necessary legal authority by these corporations, shows true contempt for the rest of the world and international law. Aspects, from mining asteroids in space, weaponising or claiming ownership of celestial bodies: is against humanity’s interest and survival.
    This ain’t the 16th or 18th Century which focused solely on colonialism and exploitation at every opportunity. It is the 21st Century, where ever human has the responsibility to protect our life-bearing planet and use our collective resources wisely. Else we all perish under our own foolishness. Corporate America is especially untrustworthy in this regards, especially where money from it (and the plutocracy who controls that money), then uses it weight through the legal processes of courts, to manipulate decisions in their own favour. It is not the kind of world we should live in, where the resources of the Solar System become goods and chattels for the rich and powerful.
    Modern corporate control of space activity should be enacted right now..

    • Aria says

      Furthermore, this article wavers around the differentiation between common law, American (or Chinese) corporate law and International law. Even these can be easily flouted by playing the often confusing jurisdiction card.
      If the international community objected to some aspect of exploitation of exploration, would the US or Chinese government even listen? Just take example of the disputed Chinese Spratly islands in international waters in the South China Sea
      or current issues of future mining in Antarctica.

  3. BCstargazer says

    Did China sign the treaty?
    Didn’t they announce plans to work towards exploiting lunar resources such as Helium 3?

  4. Mark O\'Kelly says

    Today’s words to look up are “ascent” and “assent”. Both are real words. They do not mean the same thing.

  5. Pioneer says

    “Space can’t become a free-for-all like Earth has been in the past. There has to be some kind of framework.”
    You’re sick. I hope every space development company tells every crippling, leeching government to go hang itself.

    • Tdenton1138 says

      This was my first thought immediately upon reading those lines. Yeah, what we need is more innovation crushing government interference. I’d love to see a dissertation on the exact Constitutional power the US government would employ to control a company they can’t even compete with. As one who has occasionally studied the Constitution over the past few decades, I am confident in asserting the US government has no authority to control SpaceX. This can’t possibly fall under ‘regulating trade among the States’, and no, they can’t grant themselves the power via a treaty.

      • Member
        TomArt says

        What the heck are you two talking about?!? Did you not read the article? The next-to-last thing anybody needs is a rogue company screwing things up. The last thing anyone needs is a gov’t to renege on the treaty – Russia? China? North Korea? You trust those regimes? I don’t. Nobody does, and for good reason.

        The treaty has to deal with where the missions go and conduct once there, not how. There is nothing about this that has the potential to squelch innovation or otherwise threaten technological advancement. “Innovation crushing?” Since when are gov’ts impediments to innovation?!? Trillions of public funds have been spent by US agencies and public-private partnerships for the explicit purpose of accelerating innovation! And the truly remarkable results of the past and the current mind-boggling advances all can be traced back to some amount of public funds.

        Furthermore, it’s not as if NASA is going to make any money off of these ventures – in fact, they will be spending money to aid commercial endeavors, like SpaceX’s trip to Mars – SpaceX can’t do it alone, either technologically or legally! There is no such thing as “leeching” here…what planet do you people come from?

    • Aria says

      Tautological garbage inspired by those who believe nations are dictated too by insular oppression via delusional ascendancy by evading or refraining the need for the universal pervading the general assumption of upholding the greater common good.

      I’ve never seen any existing plebiscite nor legal precedent for the suffrage of all countries to be inflicted on the entire human sphere by a delusion collection of imperial capitalists hell-bent to enslave the global populous. How can anyone justify, defend or vindicate such twisted aberrant legislative systems against real expedient need for collectivism of all.

      Pioneer and Tdenton1138 seeming want to IMPOSE and DICTATE their bureaucratic power on the rest of humanity that agencies of trust be placed in the hands of self-interested conglomerates of greed over the singular democratically elected Government who intercedes over other states and sovereign lands because they don’t like some “power via a treaty”? (and worse, an already international agreed treaty?)
      Really. I’d rather die, than be crushed under some the weight of some self-appointed autocratic tyrannical subjugator!

      Who the heck do you think you are?

      • Tdenton1138 says

        Interesting you avoided answering the Constitutional question and instead attacked us directly. Solid points for the Socialist/Collectivist argument though. Works great in Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela. To each their own, but I prefer Liberty. Cheers!

      • Aria says

        Liberty? So that’s her name!

        Supporters of holism are not necessarily socialists or collectivists. These days, even China or Russian have imperialistic capitalists too.

        If America is at all at risk of criticism, it is probably through the upholding their apparent belief in hegemony and avoiding other equally valid and legitimate decisions made by existing democracies in the world.

        Do they have legitimate right to determine their own path of development and futures, or do the hegemony(s) of the world decide it for them?

    • Aria says

      Haven’t you guys ever seen the Alien series of movies, or even the original film, Rollerball (1975)?

      Ever thought what they were actually about?

      Ladies and Gentleman “, cue the “Our Corporate Anthem“… aka. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gej6SKHF7gw

      being the darkly compelling “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.” by Bach.

      • Tdenton1138 says

        Ah, learning life’s lessons from Hollywood and history from DailyKos… ok, now I understand

    • Aria says

      Oh. I found this at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/3/9/1282742/-Our-Corporate-Anthem

      “…Because while we often speak as if capitalism and democracy go hand in hand, the truth is that relationship is far from friendly. The truth is there is a basic incompatibility between a system dedicated to the idea of holding all men equal, and a system whose purpose is to show they are not. From the beginning of the United States, proponents of capitalism feared the exercise of democracy. They always feared that citizens would act to restrict the wealth and power of the elite. Unfortunately, they were wrong… We don’t have centuries to resolve this. We don’t have decades.

      This article also nicely surmises that;

      These days corporations are largely unchecked by organized labor and—not at all coincidental to their status as electoral super-citizens—are increasingly unburdened by regulation. Between the wide-open political power opened through the gates of Citizens United, and the dead-hand-at-the-tiller intentional neglect provided by Congress, the soil for rising corporatism has rarely been richer.

      No wonder many have countries of the world live in concern, and have a direct bearing upon, America, and the recently cottoned on to the scam; by both China and Russia.

      We all collectively suffer. Thanks guys!!

      • doesn\'t matter says

        yeah, and now they are trying to implement the TTIP, a trade agreement which prioritizes corporate interest over anything a democratically elected government may choose to do (like making asbestos or fracking illegal, or protecting its public healthcare, or the way we in the EU still have paid holidays.) If a corporation wants to make slavery on Mars (do you remember company towns?). I want there to be some overseeing body that can stop it. What’s the maximum amount of radiation you can expose your space-born sub-citizens? etc.

  6. Capitalism on mars?
    What could go wrong?
    Lol!

    • Member
      TomArt says

      Exactly – the quickest way to failure is to just sit back and watch the show…gov’ts cannot back down on this. We humans cannot afford the physical and biological disasters that await us when unbridled profit-driven fools have everything their way.

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      • Member
        Dave says

        Nothing against you personally, but your views (in my opinion) are at best; naive and idealistic, and at worst; dangerous.

        GOVERNMENTS are going to be the ones to prevent physical and biological (maybe even ecological) disasters??? Are you being sarcastic?

        Ever been to Detroit? It used to have a beautiful river. There were laws to protect that river from the by-products of industry. Money changed hands between the auto industry and the government. That river is now no longer able to be swam by the beaver which were native to it, nor safely by humans!!

        Ever been to China? India? California (which has some of the strictest clean air rules in the world)? How’s the air taste there?

        You expect governments – proven over and over again to be the most egregious breakers of laws – to protect space? You expect them to fine and shut down firms who are handing them millions, billions and – soon enough – trillions of dollars? Who are financing their election campaigns? Who are financing the plugging of holes in their deficits??

        From the religious governments of the past, to Nazi-Germany, to the American and Chinese leaders of today, governments have continually proven themselves among the most corrupt, dangerous, violent entities in history.

        I love your views, but I’d suggest peeking into the real world, the one where things exist “as they are”, not “as they should be”

      • doesn\'t matter says

        governments (in capitalist nations) are dangerous when they are corrupted by corporate intersts. (in communist places, they have different failure modes – I am not complimenting them.) Removing the government part would just make things worse.

  7. Aria says

    Origin of this story is this: “A Pragmatic Approach to Sovereignty on Mars.”

    As the abstract says: “Rising interest in Mars colonization from both private and public sectors necessitates a renewed discussion about sovereignty in space. The non-appropriation principle of the Outer Space Treaty currently prohibits any sovereign claims to celestial bodies, but it remains unclear how this principle should be applied to the peaceful colonization of Mars.” concluding; “Our model for Mars colonization remains consistent with the Outer Space Treaty, but we also recommend revisiting or amending the non-appropriation and province of mankind principles to resolve the ambiguity of how nations, corporations, and individuals may utilize the resources of space.” and “We do not deny the importance of any clause of the OST in maintaining peaceful relations in space among nations and upholding the spirit of respect of celestial bodies.

    Americans need to join with the rest of the world to do this, else parochialism will surely destroy our little part of the Universe. I.e. “Any solution to this problem should keep in mind the interests of these nations, even if they lack the technology to explore space today.
    Source: http://arxiv.org/abs/1511.05615

    • Michael says

      “Americans need to join with the rest of the world”
      you must be new here.

      • Aria says

        If they are American companies (Space X is), and America is presumed to be the leader of the free world, and nearly the rest of the world has signed a ratified treaty not to exploit space for advantage over other nations, I’d expect they need to “join the rest of the world.” Else that agreed treaty has no meaning.

        If litigation were to proceed through some court, I’d expect the litigants would be the company v. all the ratifiers of that same treaty? Will the US Government stand by the Company or the treaty it also ratified?

        That is the whole point I’d think? :mrgreen:

    • Member
      Dave says

      Aria, I don’t know if you’re really young; if you were raised very “insulated” from the real world; where you hail from; anything about you. But your views seem very naive and, at times; slightly childish

      All the “vigilantism” you proclaim the “US Government” takes part in “in contempt of the rest of the world”….is, well…. absolutely true. I’m an American, who diligently believes in what America was SUPPOSED to be, and even I see it.

      But which government doesn’t?? China? Japan? Russia? Brazil? Cuba? Mexico? Sudan? Saudi? Korea?…. Who???

      If America does it more often – and more destructively – don’t you understand that this is only because we’re the most powerful nation on earth?? If Russia, or China, were to overtake that title (a distinct possibility), do you not think that THEY then, would be the worst offenders? Hasn’t history shown – for those of us who listen and learn from it – that as a government’s wealth, power, and reach grows; so too, will its corruption, greed, “vigilantism”, etc.?

      I’m not meaning to insult you; truly I’m not. I’m a diehard American, and your words don’t offend me, as I – a citizen who’s completely lost control of those governing the country he loves – find truth in them as well.

      My harsh words; “naive”; “childish” – which I maybe should have chosen better – are only because you seem to rail about the world’s troublemaker – America – yet, as of this writing, haven’t offered any solutions.

      (Continued just one time: below)

      • Member
        Dave says

        “Space exploration should be made in the name of all humanity and not… corporate entities”

        Ok, so you don’t want corporations responsible for furthering humanity’s exploration of space. Fine; me neither. They are greedy lawbreakers!

        “…America, and the recently cottoned on to the scam; by both China and Russia.”

        Ok, so you don’t want the powerful, wealthy nations of the world furthering humanity’s exploration of space. Fine; me neither. It’s a recipe for disaster.

        The problem Aria, is that you blast everyone, but offer no solutions or better ideas!!

        You say, “Space exploration should be made in the name of all humanity…”

        That’s wonderful Aria; it truly is; I love it; I agree fully.

        Just tell me how?? What’s your plan to reach this idealistic goal?? Remember, this isn’t grade school, so you can’t just say “get everyone to love each other and attain world peace”

        So tell me how this mandate of yours – which I fully agree with – is to be accomplished?

        You don’t want the wealthy governments of the world furthering space. You don’t want the wealthy corporations of the world furthering space. So WHO then, does it in the name of “all humanity”?

        Me? I can’t afford a rocket. You? Do you have a launch pad and a billion bucks in your backyard?

        (Cont one last time below- sorry)

      • Member
        Dave says

        So Aria, who leads and makes the decisions in this “all of humanity” group? We vote for our leader? (Uh oh, getting awfully close to a “government” there). Who funds it? If I don’t have money to put towards it – and you do – do you get more say than me?? Who decides who goes?

        There are 195 countries in the world. We currently have no spacecraft to fit 195 space-fareres. Who pays to build one that big? Who gets the contract to build it? If it can’t be built that large, who, from humanity, gets left behind?

        What about the mission? Weight is always an issue. A Muslim country wants to erect a statute to Ala on the moon; a Christian country Jesus; a Buddhist country, Buda. Do we erect all those statutes? Or none? Who will that offend?

        Please tell me how we further space exploration in the name of “all of humanity”.

        Instead of spending the whole comment railing against those who do it in a way contrary to that which you’d like, tell me how we do it your way…..

        I like your way Aria! I really, really do!

        Where do we start? How do we get there? Who decides the answers to the questions I’ve asked above?

        What’s your plan?

      • Aria says

        Simple (and it applies to country.) Obey the law, and stick to all the treaties you sign and agreed to support.
        The issue is simply not to take advantage or exploit space for any individual, company or country: but instead act in the interests of all.
        That is all I’m saying.

        Note Space X is under the jurisdiction of the US Government, and therefore subject to its rules or regulations. Space X cannot also do without ignoring international law – and as far as I know, the FAA is not an international organisation – so they have absolutely no authority to approve (or disapprove) a company wanting a mission to Mars.

        This is why lawsuits in the courts might be the only impasse, and why the US Government is in a bind regarding which side of the argument it supports.

        Break the formal Treaty an space will become a free-for-all for countries to use it for their own advantage. Bad news for peace in the world… 😡

  8. Member
    Dave says

    Great article Mr. Gough! Very well written; very well informed; a very interesting take on an issue often ignored by us “space nuts”.

    Here’s my personal take on this. Bear in mind that my take is written by an American, and a realist. I’m an American because I was born one; I’m a realist because I’ve learned to be one. I fully admit that my opinions may be colored by either one of these contributors to my personality.

    I LOVE the idealistic views that we can’t exploit space; that we can’t have weapons in space; that we can’t fight in space; that government oversight needs to be a part of space; that I use semicolons far too often :-). Yet, the realist within me informs me that none of the above are practical.

    Corporate interest is to make money. This, admittedly, may be a goal born in greed, but it’s still a far shot better than the apparent goal of governments; to be more powerful, or more present, than other governments; to prove they are stronger, better, richer.

    Something tells me that eventually, the Outer Space Treaty will need to be broken by all signatories.

    Look, I don’t want our celestial bodies exploited any more than anyone else does. Yet, it seems to me, that if we are to advance – nay, SURVIVE – as a species, we will have a want/desire, which will eventually turn into a need, to exploit the resources of outer space.

    (Cont below)

    • Member
      Dave says

      Isn’t it true that this treaty was signed during a time when, not only did we not fully understand just how limited the resources of our home planet were, but also didn’t realize how many important resources and raw materials outer space was filled with?

      Humans very often are creatures of hate. The idealist within me begs that we get past this, but the realist within me – the one who watches the nightly news – understand that we haven’t. We still hate one another for looking differently; for acting differently; for believing differently.

      We WILL eventually NEED these resources. At the present time – with only a company or two, based in only a country or two, interested – this isn’t really an issue. The US government and SpaceX can go out for drinks, talk it out, maybe give the Chinese a cut, and the issue goes away.

      However, further down the flight path, so to speak, when dozens of firms – from dozens of countries – are involved, do we REALLY expect them to be willing to invest Billions, even TRILLIONS, of dollars into resource gathering, whilst not being allowed to protect their equipment, mining “claim”, factories, or personnel; by force if necessary??

      (Cont below – one more time)

      • Member
        Dave says

        Would you – as a former resident of “Nation X” in this example – go up to space, unarmed and with no security detail, to work on mining and delivering billions in resources that humanity desperately needs, while just a hundred miles away, there’s a group from “nation Y” – whom you know hates you, and would love to either destroy, or take over your operation just because of some political garage happening back on earth – who may or may not (but probably does) have a cache of hidden weapons??

        Lastly, do we really – in our heart of hearts – want the current governments of the world controlling all this, rather than private corporations? Would we truly rather experience SpaceRussia vs SpaceUkraine vs SpaceUSA vs SpaceChina vs SpaceNorthkorea than we would SpaceApple vs SpaceGoogle vs SpaceX vs SpaceBoeing??

        I sure wouldn’t. When’s the last time Apple vs Google nearly nuked one another, or caused a war that put ALL of humanity at risk?? Never? When’s the last time a few governments did so? 40 years? More recently than that?

        Do we REALLY want governments – who’s sole purpose is to be more powerful than other governments – running space.

        SpaceX is largely the only serious one right now. What about when it’s not? Has government ever shown a propensity for playing favorites among contractors? For stifling innovation via thuggish tactics? For tailoring laws to screw certain – potentially innovative – firms? For taking kickbacks?

        (Cont a tiny bit below)

      • Member
        Dave says

        I say: Keep governments, with their need for power and corruption, their Armies, their biggest d**k contests, and their often violent and awful controlling of their peoples, here on earth and let them destroy themselves and the Blue Marble (which they often seem intent on doing).

        I don’t want 15 “Supreme Leaders”, “Prime Ministers”, “Presidents”, and “Kings” battling it out for Europa.

        (Finally Done lol)

  9. Member
    Aqua4U says

    Hurray for Elan! Who else has raised the bar as high? I like how this mission will not only test the Falcon Heavy but prove the Red Dragon is ready for astronauts! And check this out, the lander could be co-joined to later arriving landers. Awesome…

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  11. StarQuestor says

    I find the very notion of “Space Treaty” insulting. If space isn’t the “final frontier” then nothing is! Treaties on so-called biological contamination of worlds in our own solar system are as meaningless as the lives of the people who write them. This may be absurd but nobody told the Martians about the Treaty when asteroids collided with that planet and tons of Martian rocks were picked up by Earth and every other world in the inner solar system. And what about the asteroid collision on Earth that wiped out the dinosaurs? How much biological material was ejected into space and picked up by other planets from our own world.The fact that such material had to endure inter-planetary space is completely beside the point. Heaven Help these morons if I ever somehow acquire the wealth and the means to launch myself and anything else that I want off this planet because I am going to walk all over their silly little rules and regulations. I will laugh at them while standing on top of Olympus Mons as I plant a palm tree LOL! Who in all the Raging fires of Sam’s blazing hell do these people think they are to try to force the rest of the world to comply with their rules and regulations and all their little pet peeves and twisted ideologies in space of all places! If space isn’t the one place you can’t go to get away from all of this governmental bureaucratic crap, then I want out of this universe! I consider space to be the last bastion and final open range of our world.

  12. StarQuestor says

    I find the very notion of “Space Treaty” insulting. If space isn’t the “final frontier” then nothing is! Treaties on so-called biological contamination of worlds in our own solar system are as meaningless as the lives of the people who write them. This may be absurd but nobody told the Martians about the Treaty when asteroids collided with that planet and tons of Martian rocks were picked up by Earth and every other world in the inner solar system. And what about the asteroid collision on Earth that wiped out the dinosaurs? How much biological material was ejected into space and picked up by other planets from our own world.The fact that such material had to endure inter-planetary space is completely beside the point. Heaven Help these morons if I ever somehow acquire the wealth and the means to launch myself and anything else that I want off this planet because I am going to walk all over their silly little rules and regulations. I will laugh at them while standing on top of Olympus Mons as I plant a palm tree LOL! Who in all the Raging fires of Sam’s blazing hell do these people think they are to try to force the rest of the world to comply with their rules and regulations and all their little pet peeves and twisted ideologies in space of all places! If space isn’t the one place you can’t go to get away from all of this governmental bureaucratic crap, then I want out of this universe! I consider space to be the last bastion and final open range of our world.

  13. StarQuestor says

    Apologies, somehow my previous message got sent twice with no way to undo it.

  14. Evan, you’ve illuminated an important subject in this emerging era of commercial space companies moving beyond Earth orbit. There are a few inaccuracies, and I don’t agree completely agree with all of your opinions where offered, but in general it’s a good article and a timely subject.

    [e.g. as a minor correction, the U.S. did not pass an “asteroid mining law” last year. Title IV of H.R.2262 is called the “Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015”, so it is a generalized space resources law, providing the right of private ownership to any extracted non-biotic space resource, including from the Moon, asteroids or other celestial bodies. A foundation of the law is that it must be consistent with the Outer Space Treaty, and by definition not in violation of it.]

    On April 8th, my company Moon Express became the first to submit an application to the U.S. Government for a private space mission beyond Earth orbit. We expect the answer soon, setting a positive precedent, we hope, for freedom of enterprise in space for companies to venture to the Moon, Mars, asteroids, or wherever our commercial or aspirational goals may take us.

    http://spacenews.com/moon-express-proposes-alternate-approach-for-lunar-mission-regulatory-approvals/

    Shortly after our FAA submission, I gave a talk on the importance of space resources & entrepreneurship to UN delegates at the European Space Policy Institute in Vienna.

    https://youtu.be/ealvx3Gx1Mw?t=1s

  15. Evan, you’ve illuminated an important subject in this emerging era of commercial space companies moving beyond Earth orbit. There are a few inaccuracies, and I don’t completely agree with all of your views, but in general it’s a good article and a timely subject.

    [e.g. the U.S. did not pass an “asteroid mining law” last year. Title IV of H.R.2262 is called the “Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015″, so it is a generalized space resources law, providing the right of private ownership to any extracted non-biotic space resource, including from the Moon, asteroids or other celestial bodies. A foundation of the law is that it must be consistent with the Outer Space Treaty, and by definition not in violation of it.]

    On April 8th, my company Moon Express became the first to submit an application to the U.S. Government for a private space mission beyond Earth orbit (in 2017). We expect the answer soon, setting a positive precedent, we hope, for freedom of enterprise in space for companies to venture to the Moon, Mars, asteroids, or wherever our commercial or aspirational goals may take us.

    Shortly after our FAA submission the European Space Policy Institute in Vienna held a symposium on ‘Space Mining” for UN delegates attending the ‘Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPOUS)’ legal subcommittee meetings. Video of the widely varying talks, including my own pro-freedom of enterprise perspective, are online for those interested.

  16. MikeR says

    The article, and most of the comments, don’t seem to understand the legal issue at all. No country or its companies can _claim_ another heavenly body. Nothing in the Outer Space Treaty says that they cannot use resources from another planet. It’s the same as the Law of the Sea: no country can claim parts of the ocean, but all are free to use its resources. Not only that, but when someone takes those resources, they become their properly and no one else may steal them.
    That’s how it will work in space as well.

    • Aria says

      Zillions of reasons why the is absolutely wrong. Twisted logic to put us of the scent, perhaps?

      It says in the OST Intro:

      “Believing that the exploration and use of outer space should
      be carried on for the benefit of all peoples irrespective of the degree of their economic or scientific development.”

      Article 1 also says: “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.”

      Companies make profit to themselves not use this for all people. In Space X case, just American people. Hence it violates the Treaty if it is not unanimously agreed. If one, for example, Article IX “conduct exploration of them [Moon, etc.,]
      so as to avoid their harmful contamination.” was not a valid reason to condone exploitation by companies what is?

      Please get you facts right please before putting your foot in it!

      • miker613 says

        This is why there are lawyers, to understand clearly what laws say. People can’t push their own interpretations into laws. The two parts you quoted were nice and general, and part of an agreement not to use national sovereignty against other nations. Not to put military in space, not to claim parts of it for one nation, not to prevent other nations from access to space. Read the whole treaty. None of it includes the kinds of restrictions you’re claiming; it is nice and specific on what is not allowed.

    • Aria says

      Oh! Please do a Google search for “outer space treaty mining illegal”, which actually shows that most of these comments do comprehend and understand the legal issues – me included.
      Stealing good will, and ignoring a country who has signed a valid international treaty, is penultimate foolish.

      Thinking the US (or China or Russia) can act as a hegemony and use legal system to inflict there way of the world, ultimately shows their true character. Also twisting the law to gain advantage is equally wrong. If one cannot secede to honouring their agreements and obligations, then they shouldn’t be trusted.

      Unfounded justifications, like claiming other don’t understand when they often do, shows the dangers of selfish acts against any universal altruism. Not very gratifying nor congenial. 😮

      • miker613 says

        Well, I googled it. I see a lot of blog posts and groups making claims, mostly by people who make the same mistake you did.
        Again, a country that signs a treaty is only bound by what the treaty _says explicitly_. You don’t get to tell them what it means if it doesn’t say it. They are not bound by your hopeful reading. The Outer Space Treaty says a number of things explicitly. It is nice and clear about the military stuff. It completely leaves out mining or other use of space. That wasn’t an accident.

    • Miker613: You are correct to differentiate between territory and use of resources. The non-appropriation principle in Article II of the Outer Space Treaty is clear that no nation (or national person or entity) can claim sovereign rights over celestial bodies.

      Article I of the OST is also clear about “…free exploration and use of outer space and celestial bodies, without discrimination of any kind, on the basis of equality and in accordance within international law.” This is not a declaration of cosmic socialism, as has been interpreted by some commenters, but a guarantee of equal opportunity to use space resources independent of how “benefit of all peoples and countries” is interpreted under differing socio-economic belief systems.

      No reputable space law institute anywhere in the world shares the extreme views of some commenters here. In response to the U.S. Space Resource Exploration and Utilization law, the International Institute of Space Law published a POSITION PAPER ON SPACE RESOURCE MINING, adopted by consensus by its Board of Directors on 20 December 2015, that concluded: “In view of the absence of a clear prohibition of the taking of resources in the Outer Space Treaty one can conclude that the use of space resources is permitted. Viewed from this perspective, the new United States Act is a possible interpretation of the Outer Space Treaty.”

      Arguments to the contrary are often emotional ones made by individuals with anti-capitalist belief systems.

      • miker613 says

        Well, as I said above, countries are not bound by someone else’s interpretation. They are only bound by what they consider to be the clear language of the treaty they signed.

      • Aria says

        Dubious claims by self-interested parties hell-bent on gaining the upper hand no matter what the circumstances are smacks of hegemony – a point I’ve already made. Sounds exactly like the Texas Revolution that turned into the Mexican-American War between 1846-48 all over again. Seemingly Armstrong’s grand ideal of of some “…giant leap for mankind” turning into an out-and-out lie.

        No one has professed anti-capitalist belief systems or claims of sovereign rights here. All that is openly suggest is that companies do not have rights over Governments, treaties, other nations, nor international law.

        Space is one last chance for humanity to survive into the future. [See Morals.] It is precious commodity for our modern lives but it can be also be snuffed out in an instant if competitive nations or peoples start imposing their will over others – which historically leads to wars and conflicts – aka Texas Revolution stated above. All it takes is one short attack of a number of satellites, and path to space will be closed for centuries from debris fields no one could cross. Our future denied. 🙁

        No. “This is not a declaration of cosmic socialism…” It’s seemingly an open declaration of cosmic imperialism to imposing one country’s laws in behest of either international treaties or other countries existing laws.
        The IISL paper is : http://www.iislweb.org/docs/SpaceResourceMining.pdf

      • Aria says

        Dubious claims by self-interested parties hell-bent on gaining the upper hand no matter what the circumstances are smacks of hegemony – a point I’ve already made. Sounds exactly like the Texas Revolution that turned into the Mexican-American War between 1846-48 all over again. Seemingly Armstrong’s grand ideal of of some “…giant leap for mankind” turning into an out-and-out lie.

        No one has professed anti-capitalist belief systems or claims of sovereign rights here. All that is openly suggest is that companies do not have rights over Governments, treaties, other nations, nor international law.

        Space is one last chance for humanity to survive into the future. It is precious commodity for our modern lives but it can be also be snuffed out in an instant if competitive nations or peoples start imposing their will over others – which historically leads to wars and conflicts – aka Texas Revolution stated above. All it takes is one short attack of a number of satellites, and path to space will be closed for centuries from debris fields no one could cross. Our future denied. 🙁

        No. “This is not a declaration of cosmic socialism…” It’s seemingly an open declaration of cosmic imperialism to imposing one country’s laws in behest of either international treaties or other countries existing laws.

        The IISL paper you refer is :
        http://www.iislweb.org/docs/SpaceResourceMining.pdf

  17. Weeasle Dude says

    You all seem to be cock-eyed optimists here… Here is my own cock-eyed optimist statement: There is nothing like the threat of mass extinction to stimulate global co-operation! Here is a shortlist (in no particular order) of possible threats which compete with humanity’s tech development (I will leave it to you to decide which are mostly fact and which may be partially imaged)…
    * More Fukushima events – You know the under-reported triple meltdown, multi-quadrillion becquerel ocean releasing catastrophe in our midst.
    * Solar super flare/s – ie. Carrington event which could cripple the world’s space assets and power stations bringing a globally connected civilization to its knees
    * Ocean acidification and general trashing of our biome and its ability to carry our species and all other species
    * Meteor impact – Think Apophis.. There could be other 500m to 1km rocks (Aten class like Apophis or Apollo class PHAs) that remain undetected…
    * Best (and most contentious) for last – Sea level rise and the possibility that coastal cities (where most of civilization lives) are inundated…

    So the big question – will we really be up there squabbling in space before one of these potential scenarios unfolds??

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