Mars isn’t for sale. At least not yet. Technology and mineral needs may finally be pushing the human race to take steps into the further reaches of space, mining and then returning vast fortunes of minerals the likes of which our planet has not yet seen. But there’s a problem. A 1967 treaty signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the former Soviet Union states explicitly that no human on Earth can lay claim to territory in outer space. But as this document remains on the books barring companies from heading out toward their own asteroids and mining the riches therein, the tides of change may soon be upon this treaty.
Political pundits on both sides of the aisle have for years half-heartedly advocated increasing our exploration and use of other planets and asteroids for economic gain, but for the most part this issue has been deferred due to the high cost of the ventures and the logistical difficulties involved – difficulties that are gradually being remedied by emerging technologies from the private spaceflight sector. Soon, it’s quite possible we will begin pulling back the curtain on spaceflight and the current treaties that have long been ignored will be a roadblock for investors to overcome.
There are also those who are wholesale against the idea of extracting resources from space, however, and not for the reasons we typically hear. Some argue that the competition that would ensue after space was opened up would span the entire globe, causing a limited world supply of rocket propulsion materials to dwindle. Others suggest space is a volatile x factor with enough resources to give nations reason to go to war if the wrong resource deposit were discovered at a particularly tense political moment. Of course this possibility by itself makes a self-imposed moratorium less likely.
Still others advocate a strictly geocentric future, where our resources are carefully used in cultivating a long-term future on the planet until technology reaches a point where space travel can be done with a much smaller drain on planetary resources. The argument is very similar to one heard around the time when the British Empire spread westward to a small batch of colonies in the Americas. The logic behind it eventually led to increased taxation and eventually secession by said colonies.
There’s little doubt that humanity as a whole is at a crossroads. Do we stretch outwards into the stars to begin exploring the possibility of permanent installations in space? Or do we turn our eyes back to the ground on more terrestrial affairs? And while the political machine again proves incapable of propelling humans into space, the private sector is showing itself capable of stepping in and filling in the role – if it can turn a profit doing so. But first, the treaties drafted during the cold war will have to be either withdrawn as relics of the past or modified.
CEI, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, recently published a paper outlining the benefits of privatizing areas in space to allow for industries and private citizens to take their ventures to the stars.
NASA has stated that the cost of operating a permanent installation on the moon would be only a fraction of the cost involved in getting the materials there. The main cost at the moment is transportation, fuel, labor, and materials involved in moving the installation out there.