Ethics Food for thought Space exploration

At Phys.org: We’re heading to the moon and maybe Mars. So who owns them?

Spread the love

Humanity is set to make a return to the moon with the Artemis program, in what NASA says is a first step to Mars. So, who gets first dibs?

We're heading to the moon and maybe Mars. So who owns them?
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher at Launch Pad 39B. Credit: NASA

Dr. Aaron Boley, a professor in UBC’s department of physics and astronomy, discusses the mission’s plans and why we need to sort out access and resource rights before we return to the lunar surface.

What’s going on with the moon right now?

There’s a push to have a sustained presence on the Moon by many players, including the United States, China and Russia. One such effort is NASA’s upcoming Artemis 1 launch, a three-part mission that starts with an upcoming unmanned launch and results in returning people to the lunar surface.

We have decades of experience operating in a low Earth orbit—but lunar operations are vastly different. And while there is experience from the Apollo missions 50 years ago, the goal is now to build a sustained human presence with critical support infrastructure. An orbiting station will provide a connection between Earth and the Moon for more complex operations. This program will also allow humans to learn how to extract and use resources in space, a requirement for a sustained human presence off Earth. For example, you could harvest lunar ice and use it for radiation shielding, life support and fuel.

A lunar presence will also open up science opportunities in orbit and on the surface, including detailed lunar chronology using surface samples and sites, which could provide information about the Earth’s history in the Solar System.

Does it matter who owns space?

Putting a flag on the Moon or in space doesn’t mean you own it. However, the question then becomes, if you take something from space do you then own it? If someone picks up a moon rock, ice, or other resource, does that rock, resource, or even the information you learn from it, belong to that person? Having multilateral agreements that address these questions is crucial, preferably before we go. We also need to have conflict resolution protocols in place should two powerful groups want the same resource, or if a company discovers important scientific information that should be available publicly. And how are we going to address cultural and natural heritage?

The current corpus of international law applied to space, including the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, provides an important foundation, but is not able to answer these questions alone. The United States has been promoting the Artemis Accords, a political commitment toward a particular vision for cooperation on the Moon—Canada is a signatory. But these have not been negotiated multilaterally. In contrast, a working group has been established at the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to reach an international understanding of resource utilization on celestial bodies. But such work takes time, and countries are racing to establish practices that might influence the outcome of that process.

Why are these agreements important?

What we may see without agreements is countries testing each other’s limits in space, similar to the testing of claims of sovereignty in, say, seas on Earth. For example, a rover may be driven close to another country’s activities just to make a point concerning free access. We also want to avoid the loss of scientific information or opportunities due to a lack of data sharing or reckless activities. And we need to recognize that the path should not be decided by just a handful of states.

To explore the Moon is to ask questions about the origin of Earth and humanity. Historically, space has been a stabilizing influence for humanity because you have to work together in such a harsh environment otherwise things go wrong pretty quickly. The International Space Station and Cospas-Sarsat are testaments to this.

Phys.org

10 Replies to “At Phys.org: We’re heading to the moon and maybe Mars. So who owns them?

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    Going by the history of European colonization of other continents on this planet, whichever of the Great Powers gets there first will lay claim and if there happen to be any indigenous beings there first it will be so much the worse for them.

  2. 2
    BobRyan says:

    It is an exciting time.

  3. 3
    Seversky says:

    Who owns them – Matt Damon?

  4. 4
    chuckdarwin says:

    Sev/3
    Actually I think Rock Hudson beat Damon by a number of years (The Martian Chronicles). And there was also the Red Planet a few years back. The good news is that the colonists were all Americans, so I guess the USA has first dibs. 🙂

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    Chuckdarwin/4

    Actually I think Rock Hudson beat Damon by a number of years (The Martian Chronicles). And there was also the Red Planet a few years back. The good news is that the colonists were all Americans, so I guess the USA has first dibs. ?

    I’d completely forgotten about The Martian Chronicles until you reminded me. That in turn reminded me of the first Mars-based movie I remember seeing – Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

  6. 6
    Querius says:

    Reminds me of a story about an elderly native American leader who was asked for his reaction to Americans landing on the moon. His response supposedly was, “Well, if they find any Indians up there, tell not to make any treaties.”

    Ownership of land and the right to govern it has always been a contentious issue. What does it boil down to?

    A. Force of real or threatened violence.
    B. “Finders keepers, losers weepers?”
    C. ?
    D. ?

    -Q?

  7. 7
    relatd says:

    Querius at 6,

    It’s always been: If you can defeat the natives you win. You get everything. Just like the British attempt to take over the Colonies in America.

  8. 8
    relatd says:

    Another poorly written article. The current Moon mission was scrubbed at the last minute. Not a problem in 1969.

    The only thing that matters is getting there first and completing the mission. First, the Moon and then Mars. But going to Mars is too dangerous. The gravity there is lower than Earth. It is very cold. The idea is to extract oxygen from the Martian atmosphere to make fuel for the return trip. Handling liquid oxygen on Earth is dangerous. Handling it on Mars would be even more dangerous. An explosion would take out the return ship and most or all of the crew.

    Any “negotiations” would happen only after the fact.

  9. 9
    Alan Fox says:

    It’s always been: If you can defeat the natives you win. You get everything. Just like the British attempt to take over the Colonies in America.

    Then why does Canada still have a Queen? Why did many Native Americans fight with the British? Wasn’t there something about slavery? Oh, and weren’t the colonies originally British, prior to the existence of the US?

    Might has been right since the beginning of recorded history and probably before. Ask the Midianites! Oh, wait…

  10. 10
    Seversky says:

    … Canaanites, Amalekites, populations of Sodom and Gomorrah … and who knows what He’s been up to in the rest of the Universe.

Leave a Reply