President Obama recently signed into law legislation that would allow businesses to mine asteroids and other space bodies. However, International Treaty states that nothing in space can belong to any country, which makes this law potentially controversial.
President Obama signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act into law one day before Thanksgiving 2015. This legislation gives U.S. space firms the right to own and sell natural resources mined from asteroids and other space bodies. It is considered dangerous and potentially illegal by some experts.
This law conflicts with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which declares points such as “states shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies” and that celestial bodies and outer space in general are “not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”
On the other hand, there are several groups that are thrilled to see this law pass. One is Planetary Resources, a firm founded in 2010 and seeking to extract water, important materials, and minerals from asteroids and profit from them. In fact, Eric Anderson (co-founder and co-chairperson of Planetary Resources) lauds the U.S. Space Act as “the single greatest recognition of property rights in history.”
“This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economics of history and will encourage the sustained development of space,” he said.
Aside from violating international law, one of the main critiques of mining asteroids and other celestial bodies stems from a fear of polluting the rest of the solar system in the same way we have Earth. What’s more, some worry that such interactions will make research on space more difficult with the addition of having to correct for manmade disturbances.
This is made even more complicated by other initiatives to get humans back into space. They aren’t all bogus like Newt Gingrich’s claims of a U.S. moon colony by 2020, which likely would have run into similar legal roadblocks.
For example, there is MarsOne, a private group that wants to send privately trained astronauts on a one-way mission to Mars using mostly crowdfunding. What would the legal implications of such a mission then entail? Would the participants in MarsOne be restricted by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, or would they be exempt because they aren’t states and merely travelers or settlers?