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Economy & Business

Exploiting Space: To Greedily Go (and That’s a Good Thing)

I posted something here yesterday about efforts to regulate commercial exploitation of the moon — and beyond, among other matters citing the activities of For All Moonkind, a group that is reportedly pushing the United Nations to protect the six Apollo landing sites.

Protecting those sites struck me as a worthwhile objective, but I was worried that extending (or reinforcing) terrestrial jurisdiction beyond our planet and its immediate vicinity could discourage the adventurers, scientists, inventors and investors needed to proceed further with the commercial exploitation of, well, space. So far as that is concerned, the basic principle that should apply, I argued, is ‘finders, keepers.’

The folks at For All Moonkind quickly tweeted to say that they were “not looking to tie the hands of entrepreneurs.” They were “just trying to save some history.”

Fair enough.

I explained that I was “all for preserving the history. Just to want to make sure the legal regime that does so only does that.”

In that context, this report from Digital Trends makes encouraging reading.

Here’s an extract:

It used to be that laying claim to space rocks was tricky business, but thanks to some forward-thinking legislation enacted in recent years, many of the legal hurdles standing in the way of these space mining operations have been ironed out.

Up until recently, there weren’t many ratified international laws or treaties regarding resources found outside of our planet. In 1967, we got the Outer Space Treaty, which establishes broad parameters about the use of space for peaceful purposes, and also specifically states that no country can own anything outside of Earth. Obviously, this agreement isn’t exactly ideal for anybody looking to set up a moon mining operation.

But the game changed two years ago. In 2015, the Obama administration pushed forward the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. This legislation essentially works around the semantics of existing treaties, and enables individuals to recover resources in space without outright claiming sovereignty over the lunar land that the resources were taken from.

Credit where credit’s due: That was a good move.

“Think of these planets as international waters,” says [Naveen] Jain [the co-founder and chairman of Moon Express, “arguably the world’s foremost lunar mining company”].  “Nobody gets to own the underlying things, but they can use the private resources,” “They [can] own the fish and the oil … we as a private company are flying under the U.S. flag, in some sense then, we are a ship in international waters.”

With the legal framework in place to determine who owns the rights to any resources recovered on the moon and beyond, the doors of opportunity have been flung wide open. There’s a massive hoard of loot floating over our heads, and whoever gets there first basically has carte blanche to mine it — we just have to make the trip.

And the moment when this comes to pass might be sooner than we expect:

Believe it or not, there are already a handful of private space companies racing each other toward the launchpad. In late 2016, Moon Express…received approval to launch a moon mission. This marks the first time the government has approved a private mission beyond Earth orbit.

“We go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is profitable,” jokes…Jain, co-founder and chairman of Moon Express, invoking John F. Kennedy’s famous Rice University moon speech.

Finders, Keepers: That is the way to go.

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