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Trump Gives Green-Light for Moon-Mining: How Does it Affect Outer Space Politics?

BY Dipanjana Mukherjee April 28, 2020
Moon mining

Artistic impression of a future moon colony. (NASA / SAIC / Pat Rawlings)

Amidst the deadly Coronavirus pandemic that has struck the entire world, Donald Trump, the President of the U.S., signed an executive order on April 6 that has a far-reaching impact on international relations and outer space politics. The treaty asserts that the U.S. does not think of space as a global commons”. Therefore, it shall allow the country to mine lunar resources without requiring an international treaty to permit it. The White House believes that the water, ice and other lunar resources are available for the taking for the country of United States, which will help them in the establishment and consolidation of human presence on the moon.

Benefits of space mining

Sarah Cruddas, a space journalist, believes that mining the Moon would be rather beneficial and will aid humans to go further into space, like Mars, for instance. She also said that the Moon could operate as an intergalactic petrol station since it has resources essential for rocket fuel–hydrogen and oxygen. If there was a petrol station in space itself, it would mean that rockets could travel further in space as fuel limitations would no longer be a concern. Cruddas simplifies this idea with an analogy saying,

“It’s like not taking a kitchen sink when you go on holiday. We shouldn’t need to take everything with us when we go into space”.

According to Benjamin Sovacool, a professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex, humankind is aggressively blowing a hole through the resources at our disposal. Professor Sovacool believes that mining on the moon for resources could help in the building of things like electric cars, which would be beneficial in protecting the environment for the long haul. However, he also reiterates that space mining does not provide any short-term solutions in dealing with climate change.

The moon treaty of 1979

The ‘1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies’, more commonly referred to as the ‘Moon Treaty of 1979’, stipulates that nations may not mine resources in outer space. However, several space-faring countries of the world including the U.S do not recognise the treaty. Countries that are already engaged in spaceflights or intend to do so have not adopted the Moon Treaty.

In fact, earlier in 1967 a treaty was signed called the ‘1967 Outer Space Treaty’, according to which, the use of lunar resources was allowed. Also, in 2015, Congress passed a law according to which American companies and citizens would be allowed to use moon and asteroid resources.

Though it was agreed that any nation can not claim the moon as their property, but currently it quite resembles maritime laws. Sarah Cruddas says, “If you go there, find it and mine it – it’s yours to keep.”Professor Sovacool explains that the typical argument for space settlement is that it will be our only escape since we will eventually ruin Earth’s ecosystem beyond repair. It is a viewpoint that asserts that the sole way to preserve a future for mankind is by seriously considering space settlement.

What does Trump’s executive order entail?

According to the executive order signed by President Trump, it is made clear that the U.S not only does not see space as a “global commons”, but it also makes things very official. According to administrative sources, the executive order was underway for nearly a year. The order also states that there are commercial partners taking part in an innovative and sustainable program which is being led by the U.S in order to “lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization.” The treaty states that a logical extension of this plan is to carry out human missions to Mars and other destinations in the long run.

In 2018, NASA, the space agency of the United States, had announced their plans to send astronauts to the moon by 2024, which had last been attempted in1972. NASA’s program for crewed space exploration, also known as ‘Artemis’ plans to send two of their astronauts to the moon by 2024 and aims to establish a sustainable human presence on and around Earth’s nearest neighbour by 2028. According to NASA officials, lunar resources, especially the water ice which is said to be found abundantly on the floors of the polar craters, is probably the doorway to the beginning of Artemis’ huge ambitions.

Scott Pace, who is the deputy assistant to Trump, along with being the Executive Secretary of the U.S National Space Council, said“This executive order establishes U.S. policy toward the recovery and use of space resources, such as water and certain minerals, in order to encourage the commercial development of space.”

Dissenting views and a space race

The U.S has received many dissenting views, one of which belongs to the Russian space agency ‘Roscosmos’ which has condemned the executive order and labelled it colonialism. The deputy director-general of Roscosmos, Sergey Saviliev said, on the matter of international cooperation, “Attempts to expropriate outer space and aggressive plans to actually seize territories of other planets hardly set the countries (on course for) fruitful cooperation.” He proceeded to liken it to and remind us of the impact of British Colonialism specifically, and Colonialism as a concept, and how it has gone down in the annals of history.

However, despite criticising the U.S for its move about mining on the moon, Russia is not too far behind. They have expressed their plans to hopefully establish a permanent base on the moon sometime after 2025 in order to extract Helium.

China too has similar plans as Russia and the U.S with regard to asteroid mining and space explorations. In fact, there are talks that China and Russia may even team up in order to establish a joint lunar and deep space data centre with hubs in both the countries”.

The ESA, or European Space Agency, has also expressed explicit interest in moon mining.

Trump’s space mission in a nutshell

Trump’s lunar development plans rely heavily on the cooperation between the private sectors and the U.S. Government. The signing of this latest executive order by Donald Trump will quite possibly not only strengthen the position of the U.S on an economical front but also in terms of their military strength. This aggressive encouragement for the activity of moon mining given by Trump may be considered a result of his presidential pursuits. He has consistently shown a very active interest in outer space over the years. He has endeavoured to lift regulations that hindered several mining projects which were given under the presidential rule of Barack Obama. In 2019, the United States became the only country to have an independent space force, cementing the nation’s position as a forerunner in the space race.

Enjoyed this article? Also, check out “A Glimpse into the Exciting World of Space Tourism“.

Fact Analysis:
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