Topic of the Week: Ownership of the Moon? - MyMoon

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Last week, the Planetary Resources company was unveiled, with a plan to mine asteroids. While many have come up with similar ideas before, there really have never been plans that have been considered as throughly as the ones that Planetary Resources has been developing. Essentially, their goal is to first observe and survey near-Earth asteroids and find through this some interesting objects. Once these are located, they hope to be able to send spacecraft to the asteroids to extract water, oxygen, or other precious materials. The water and oxygen could support future manned missions throughout the Solar System, and would be much cheaper than transporting them to space from the Earth. As if this entire plan could not seem more like science fiction, the company has been supported by a number of billionaires, scientists, and engineers very excited about its prospects.

This entire project got me thinking about the implications of future missions to places in the Solar System like the Moon. As technology progresses, private organizations have been developing the means to explore the Moon, and perhaps exploit it for obtaining resources. As someone very interested in science, I’m not sure if I’m entirely comfortable with a private company taking advantage of a place like the Moon. Studying the Moon can give valuable insights about its formation or the early history of the Earth, but we can lose this information if it is used instead for other purposes like mining.

On the other hand, I am incredibly excited by these kinds of projects at the same time for what they could bring for manned space exploration. Future manned missions could be more easily supported if they had more ready access to vital resources. For example, it has been suggested in the past that a moon mission could extract water directly from the Moon.

I feel that this news ultimately raises the question about who owns a place like the Moon. Do you feel that the Moon should be thought of as a protected place, available for the public benefit, or something that can be used privately by any organization?


Eve H.

Monday May-07-2012

An interesting topic to be sure! You make some very good points, and do a good job of exposing the conflict.

There are advantages to both viewpoints. Personally, however, I feel like the Moon should be a protected place, kind of like Antarctica is here on Earth. We should be very careful not to tarnish it or risk destroying the yet undiscovered clues that it may hold about our plant and our solar system. We should not let our own ambition allow us to permanently alter it.

So, as much as I support exploration of the Moon and beyond, I am against private entities or governments using it for their own purposes. The Moon is the daughter of Earth, belonging to all on the Earth. Just my humble opinion - what do other's think?

Nick A.

Monday May-07-2012

I think Antarctica's status has remained the way it is because of its relative lack of value---people aren't really clamoring for it.

The Moon, on the other hand, is a valuable chunk of land. All kinds of accessible resources to be had; development potential; plus the tourism aspect. A lunar hotel has a little more allure than an Antarctic one.

It's more like the American colonial days or the old West after that---a large frontier full of opportunity, and value. Land deals then were a little, ah, flexible (see: New Amsterdam and numerous ill-fated Indian treaties that settlers basically just ignored).

Current space law says that you can't own land in space, but anything you collect (mine) is yours. Here's a Salon article with a good look at it:

So while I don't expect land ownership on the Moon to take off, homesteading (more or less) could. It'll be fun to see when the soil hits the fan, and an actual body is convened to make a decision on this. What's decided with lunar land now could affect it and celestial bodies for decades, even centuries, which is pretty exciting.

It's our stead, and it should be fun to see what we can do with it. (See the "Independence" episode of HBO's John Adams for a little spine-tingling!).

Eve H.

Tuesday May-08-2012

I see your point - however I would argue that Antarctica, like the Moon has a lot of scientific research value. That was really the point that I was making. I do agree that a lunar hotel would have more appeal than an Antarctic one ... although you may make a few more local friends at the South Pole (Hello Happy Feet!). :)

It will be very intersting to see where we end up! How odd to think that generations from now, people on Earth may look up and see a much different Moon...

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