Travis Mattila’s laughter may be misplaced. The mining corporations actually want law to apply in space. This is because they want private property rights to be established in space and to be universally respected, as on Earth.
Photograph by Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty Images
Published November 13, 2013
The Man Who Sold the Moon? A private space company's chief, Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace Inc., called for the Federal Aviation Administration to allow property rights for lunar mining, at a Tuesday NASA briefing.
The North Las Vegas, Nevada-based firm already has a contract, announced in January, to provide the U.S. space agency with an experimental inflatable habitat for the International Space Station in 2015.
Now Bigelow, 69, wants private space companies (such as his own and Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket firm) to take a larger role in expanding NASA's astronaut explorations to beyond the space station's orbit. (See "Moon Exploration.")
And he wants the U.S. government to offer those firms a potential payoff—rights to mine the moon, echoing recent calls to mine asteroids. "The time has come to get serious about lunar property rights," said Bigelow, speaking at a briefing with NASA manned spaceflight chief William Gerstenmaier.
Moon Base Miners
"Ultimately, permanent lunar bases will have to be anchored to permanent commercial facilities," he said. "Without property rights there will be no justification for investment and the risk to life."
According to the FAA, however, the agency only regulates launches and reentries of rockets from orbit, and doesn't oversee activities of spacecraft. The latest U.S. Commercial Space Act doesn't mention lunar mining.
Bigelow Aerospace attorney Mike Gold, however, maintained that the agency's oversight of launches made it the right place to start asking for permission to mine the moon.
Asteroid Mining on the Moon
In recent years, a number of nascent asteroid-mining firms such as Planetary Resources, Inc. of Bellevue, Washington, have announced plans to prospect space rocks orbiting near Earth for rare earths or platinum. (See "Asteroid Mining Metal Abundance.")
"Asteroids have been hitting the moon for a long time, especially on the back side," Bigelow said at the briefing, arguing that mining rare earths and other valuable resources would be even easier on the lunar surface.
He described future miners at these asteroid impact sites as "just walking around, picking stuff up from the ground."
An inflatable moon base designed by his firm would land itself, in his view, after assembly in orbit around the moon.
Lunar Rights Conundrum
Leaving aside the costs of moon rockets and the return of heavy minerals from the moon to Earth, a number of legal obstacles stands in the way of moon miners, says space law expert James Dunstan of Mobius Legal Group in Springfield, Virginia.
Space exploration advocates have called for lunar property rights since the days of the moon landings. However, the Outer Space Treaty prohibits nations from claiming territorial rights on the moon, which is widely seen as precluding them from awarding property rights to lunar resources.
Gold argued that the treaty, signed by the major space-faring nations, does allow for property rights claims, something to be examined in the opinion the firm plans to request from the FAA.
Dunstan is dubious, however, saying, "While Bigelow may be trying to force the U.S. government's hand by seeking an opinion from the FAA, the FAA cannot (and my guess is would not) render an opinion as to the legality of mining the moon."
Private Space Partnerships
Bigelow's announcement came amid the release of the second half of a report, requested from the firm by NASA, on whether the space agency should seek commercial partners to explore beyond Earth's orbit.
NASA already has a partnership with two commercial firms to supply the International Space Station, an effort widely seen as a success in the space community.
In remarks that implied criticism of NASA's plans to test-fly its own large astronaut rockets in 2017 and 2021, Bigelow said the report called for NASA to instead use commercial rockets to explore the moon and asteroids.
NASA announced a plan last year to retrieve a small asteroid and park it in orbit around the moon as soon as 2021. Bigelow said private space firms and the space agency would both benefit by cooperating on such missions to a greater extent.
"We'll look very carefully at all the recommendations in the report," Gerstenmaier said at the briefing. He saw such partnerships, at this point in time, "starting small."
Follow Dan Vergano on Twitter.
lunar mining rights ? i laughed out loud
the question isnt who is going to let you, its who is going to stop you.
What is with all this drama about destroying the moon? It is a completely dead place. There is nothing there to destroy. People you're crying about a dead rock and how evil and greedy man is. You're missing the bigger picture.
If there was some practical way to use the moon for resources so we could leave our planet alone without digging holes in every plot of land that would be a perfect green solution. If we could leave our wonderful perfect Earth alone while we get the resources we need from a dead world, I think even the Fox New guys would be for that or at least if Obama isn't the first to suggest it.
Most of you have this backwards. I could only dream of a perfect solution were we could get what we need from a dead moon and allow our rain forests and the oceans to recover back to their natural states. Or our energy needs were meet without the danger of destroying our fragile atmosphere. And if this solution also provided good paying jobs for people what is so evil about this?
I lean left on the political scale but some of you are so extreme in you hatred towards any thing that hints at a business model that includes a fair profit that you miss the bigger picture. That is we need to protect our home planet at all costs it is the most special place we have found in the hostile Universe. If that means digging up the dead moon then so be it. Don't worry about a dead rock when we're destroying our one and only garden.
So my previous reply was disallowed. Reflecting, I can't blame the moderator. I must be civil, even to those who propose the continuing destruction in the name of profit of any thing we can see and even stuff we can't. Instead I offered replies to several worthy comments below, and then put what I didn't see here.
Perhaps we can admit shared discovery of all the solar system and guarantee under international law we won't allow purely commercial use. Maybe it would have to be interplanetary law and we would need to establish a colony of lawyers on Mars to make it legal. Or perhaps a modern Psych ward on a homely asteroid, for all the persons who can't let go of the profit motive. (There has never, ever been record of any space farer who did it for the money).
On Earth all seafarers are Brothers, they will all help if they can a fellow human in distress, one can imagine and hope the farther we travel from our celestial home, something similar and stronger occurring. When it does I hope it will include a sense of sharing, so that spacefarers will not serve the power hungry. It is remarkable how many science fiction stories involve humans distancing themselves from a corrupt Earth. My hope extends to seeing that as unecessary. A concord to state that we should not use material (or even energy) from outer space unless it is in the interests of the whole planet, as well as the humans on it, might be the best place to start.
Mining the moon and near earth asteroids most likely will become an important economic reality in the next 30 to 50 years handled by private companies however an international agreement regarding property rights in space is required to regulate the access to lunar soil accepted by UN.
The major resource on the moon might be Helium 3, as a possible replacement of oil for energy.
Let the space wars begin.
The only way we will EVER find a way to actually get off of this planet in any kind of meaningful way is if the private corporations do it, otherwise it just becomes a huge drain on our economy. If private corporations begin mining off planet, they can get the money back that has to be spent to get them there, along with a nice profit to encourage them to find new and better ways to do it.
Look back at world history, have we ever spent money and risked our very lives for nonprofit in any large scale way? I for one would love the opportunity to live on the moon, or Ceres. At some point we will have to escape from this planet. Do you think anyone other than a private corporation with a profit motive will ever make that possible?
You think you own whatever moon you land on
its rocks are just a dead thing you can claim
but I [and-every-other-human-culture-for-thousands-upon-thousands-of-years] know the only natural satellite around us
has an orbit
affects the raaaaain
You think the only people who can claim moons
have big rockets and flags to plant in vieeeeew
but if you think about the s*** the moon does
it belongs to Earth
IT CAN'T BELONG TO YOU
Have you ever heard the wailing
from those looney tuuunes
on nights the moon is filled up to the brim?
Those who recognized this satellite around us
without thinking, "Oh hey it might proffer tin"
How LONG will this lunar-sphere go?
If you blow it up [in a freak mining accident...which obviously would happen]
you may never know
How LONG til will part for the stars?
Leave the moon alone
Just wait and buy up Maaaaars
You can claim the moon and still
All your claims are turgid swill
to do your will
[melodic music fades]
"Volatile Moon" science-fiction e-book explores how volatile mining creates an environmental disaster at the South Pole of the moon http://www.prlog.org/12239973.html with no accountability for the consequences. It could happen...
Not ours, but future gens WILL be colonizing space. Gotta start somewhere with the tech & resources.
This idea sickens me, but we all know that if there is a profit to be had, the big corporations will get their way, the government will support them, and what the rest of us think won't matter - not even the warnings of top scientists will make a difference. They will try to assure everyone that it's all for the greater good and convince the naive that it's an absolutely wonderful idea. What could possibly go wrong? Sounds a lot like ethanol farming and maybe even a little like Obamacare, doesn't it?
Exploring the moon sounds amazing, destroying sounds horrific. We need the moon just as much as we need the sun, lets please think things through for once.
I gotta admit it would be exhilarating/amazing to participate in this program and work/explore the moon. With that being said, if our only goal is to extract and create profits for a small number of individuals/corporations, then that’s just sad.
We humans can't help ourselves from looking at something and thinking, 'what can I personally/corporately gain from this? Forget everyone else and whatever unintended consequence we might cause, by god there’s profits to be made!'
And don't we have some rather serious issues here still on Earth that we could maybe focusing on? Mining companies already completely destroy the areas they extract from. Perhaps we could focus on putting back together the natural systems we’ve disturbed on Earth, before we devote sooo much time, money, energy, and resources to mining the Moon.
INDIA WILL BE MINING THE MOON WHILE THE U.S. CONGRESS IS ARGUING ABOUT ORANGES AND APPLES! ... Chandrayaan-1 (Sanskrit: चन्द्रयान-१, lit: Moon vehicle pronunciation (help·info)) was India's first unmanned lunar probe. It was launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation in October 2008, and operated until August 2009. The mission included a lunar orbiter and an impactor. India launched the spacecraft using a PSLV-XL rocket, serial number C11, on 22 October 2008 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, Nellore District, Andhra Pradesh, about 80 km north of Chennai, at 06:22 IST (00:52 UTC). Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced the project on course in his Independence Day speech on 15 August 2003. The mission was a major boost to India's space program, as India researched and developed its own technology in order to explore the Moon. The vehicle was successfully inserted into lunar orbit on 8 November 2008.
IMO the U.S is in no position to grant anyone mining rights to the moon, as it belongs to our planet, and any one country.
So will there be restrictions on mining and what not, i mean, we cant just let someone mine a natural satellite away for money when its been there for billions of years. That would be irresponsible, not to mention that the moon is basically earths natural shield to deflecting asteroids or meteorites. By mining the moon, aren't we just stripping the earth of the little protection it already has? And for some rocks?, what about pollution? Space ships require a ton of fuel to lift off and the continued passing of minerals between earth and the moon would just increase pollution if this becomes a world wide marketing plan.
So just because I want to can I claim rights to owning Mars now. Even though I can't get there and make a habitable living environment tomorrow but I could possibly do this within the next 50 years I should be able to claim my right now. (Yes all sarcasm)
If I understand current propulsion technology correctly, there little possibility of profit gained from mining the moon, even using automated machines, even if the moon had solid gold bars laying around on it's surface for the taking. Travelling to the moon is very expensive.
But I suppose developing the tech for mining the moon might be useful for a future moon research base or if propulsion technology makes a giant leap forward in the near future.
I suggest that people read RAHeinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress'. While dated, the outline and the numbers are generally sound. Beyond the self-aware computer story is a background of ideas of how to colonize and exploit the resources.... AND there is a cautionary tale in how easy it would be for Lunar Residents to hold the earth hostage by threatening to 'throw rocks' at places like New York, Mumbai, Moscow and Beijing.
We humans must take a considered and thoughtful approach to the whole solar system, if we are to avoid doing to it what we are doing to the earth.
It's not your moon to sell. It's ours to admire. Smart people with stupid ideas. Money can't be spent from mining, if there is no PLANET to spend it on. I believe I see thousands of large and small craters there on the moon. If you setup camp, wouldn’t you be an easy target for impacts? That inflatable will deflate. Just a bad idea here guy's and you know it.
With moon mining people will start living on the moon as well. Then there will be all of the other space rocks we will be mining. The next big asteroid that has been set to hit earth could well be mined out of existence. The moon could even grow in size. Think of what the implications of that will be?
Im not any college educated fool or any thing, but taking mass from the moon would have catastrophic effects in the long run i think... the start would be changing of ocean tides, then on to more complex issues that we cant begin to imagine... just a thought
@Henry Lester All seafarers (and we hope, in the future, all spacefarers) may be "brothers," but sailors and spacemen want to and should be paid, in exchange for the labor they provide and the dangers they face. If you don't allow commercial enterprise in space, so that valuable products are made, which people gladly purchase voluntarily, you consign space exploration to be funded by donations and tax extraction, which invariably means that far fewer spacemen can get paid. I worry not so much about profit and the profit motive, as I do that people misunderstand and even despise them.
Profit in a free market (that is, a market where nobody is forced to participate or is arbitrarily barred from participation, and all participants make transactions only voluntarily, under terms that they and nobody else determine) is the signal that you are using resources most efficiently, to satisfy genuine human wants and needs. That profit funds improvement in or expansion of your enterprise, or can allow it to weather economic downturns. Even "break even" is not a good enough financial status for any business that hopes to persist into the long-term future. You must be able to build a cushion to provide your enterprise with flexibility and robustness, so you need PROFIT.
When profit is the ONLY motive, or is pursued obsessively, that can lead to problems. But a good, healthy profit is both of those things: Good AND healthy! Ideally, a business pursues and achieves profit by solving customer problems via the goods and services it provides. But when the problems are imaginary (for instance, fomented by advertising), or not well aligned with true needs and wants of the population (for example, the artificial "need" to file complicated tax forms properly and accurately, or face government audits and disciplinary action), then the profit a business gets can be, at best, a gratuitous windfall, and at worst, the booty from a con job. These are situations we should not tolerate, but the fact that they can and do happen should not tarnish the value and reputation of honest, well-earned PROFIT!
@Henry Lester Your concerns are misplaced. There is nothing in space or the moon right now that we can't mine here on Earth for the fraction of the cost. Let us first develop Helium 3 reactor that actually works in the real world before worrying about mining for Helium 3 on the moon.
Your worry about a profit motive is your saving grace. I'll use gold as an example. Even if an asteroid was 5% pure gold the cost to for the logistics to acquire that gold and bring it back to earth is go great the break even point makes the whole project pointless.
For example there is more gold on the bottom of the ocean floor then we can imagine but there is no practical way to mine it. If the cost to mine an oz. of gold is $10,000 then it will never happen. With the cost of setting up a mining operation in space most likely going into the hundred of millions (at best), that doesn't include operational costs. For now we're a long way a
Amazing how an economic "reality" seems to conquer every worthwhile thing about humanity. Maybe it's not as real as we think. Maybe it is just a danger that we do not have to let happen.
@Heath Wilson Mister: I don't, haven't and won't do much for profit. Beliefs, yes. Experience, yes. Adventure, yes. Profits, No.
Anyway I want a nice planet to come back to. Who are you escaping from? You going to surrender the planet to them? Fight for it, please.
History shows that governments have led the way in pioneering space, and that people can and have risked their lives in public not-for-profit space endeavors. Only governments have the deep pockets and the stability to fund risky ventures into the unknown that may not pay off for many decades, if ever. Private enterprises didn't venture into space until long after governments had shown that it was feasible and potentially profitable. Even now, they are doing so mostly with funding from NASA and other governmental sources. Yes, of course, there is a role for private enterprise in space, but it probably isn't a pioneering one. In order to foster a socially constructive role, private businesses in space will need to be regulated and taxed, just as is the case here on Earth. Since the US and other governments don't (and can't under international law) own celestial objects, there will need to be an international agency to regulate and tax private business in space, and perhaps lease them land for mining operations.
Lisa unfortunately there is no limit to the audacity and greed of the human being. The free market has proved to be the ultimate mistake of our species. That sad fact is there is nothing anyone can do to stop this from happening. If it were cost effective, the outsourcing of jobs to mooninites would be a forgone conclusion.
@Jan Flynn Heck, the only thing totally worse than Obamacare was the system we had before it. Funny how all those sham insurance plans were "outed" and now the cry is that people might "lose" plans that covered almost nothing.
On the other hand, for outerspace, let loose the corporate dogs of war. Let the harvest begin.
Thanks for the info on interesting Indian research.And the reminder that even Countries with great spiritual understanding possess citizens who might forget about caring for the Universe which nurtures us..
If the united States does not get to the Moon to mine it, and I personally hope it does not, then You can bet your bottom rupee that they won't be very keen on supporting anyone else doing so either.They might even have the gumption to do the right thing and prescribe economic measures against India's rich.
@Les McNalley The point is, we need to start working out a rational means of parceling out property and resource rights (with the emphasis on 'rational') on the Moon and elsewhere in space now, instead of waiting until the last controversial minute...
@john smith" That would be irresponsible, not to mention that the moon is basically earths natural shield to deflecting asteroids or meteorites"
Aside from the fact that Earth's gravity is stronger, the Moon occupies a small angular area of the sky. Dangerous objects can not only come from any direction, but it's just about as probable that the Moon's gravity could deflect an otherwise near-miss object *toward* Earth...
And in any case, mining on Earth doesn't make whole continents disappear, and that's the scale of what you're talking about. The Moon can't both be a 'shield,' yet small enough that we could remove a meaningful percentage of it...
@James Gleason As a purely practical matter, any claim will be meaningless, unless you can actually get there and do something...
@Cassidy Perry Earth is at the bottom of a huge gravity well, compared to the surface of the moon. Getting people there with equipment and early living quarters would be very expensive, but with electromagnetic launch technology (which exists) getting stuff off the moon and onto the surface of Earth would be dead cheap.
@James Hernandez Inflatable meteorite shelter used to be a joke term for a useless object, like ashtray on a motorbike or a chocolate teapot. That said inflatables have appeared in Arthur C. Clarke's story A fall of moon dust,but I think for shorter term use. Any realistic base would require some pretty serious insulation from solar radiation.
And you are so right that no-one can sell the Moon,No-one owns it to begin with, but the Article we are commenting on contained links to space lawyers who have very little problem over this. I can just see some slime bag trying to slip this sort of catastrophe into a congressional bill as a "minor" item, the media being distracted and the rest of us not fighting it.
You do realize that
1) There are more asteroids/meteoroids that come at earth than at the moon?
2) Who is the "ours"?
@Jon Laughlin Like Earth, very small objecs continue to rain down on it, even today. The only difference is, even sand grain sized objects make it to the surface, Earth's atmosphere toasts them (though the mass still doesn't go away).
@Jason McGee You needen't gradate college to find out just how massive the Moon is. You seriously underestimate it. Mass ejected to escape velocity from some of the bigger meteor strikes there (some of it makes its way here. We call that Lunar ejecta on Earth 'tektites.'), are greater than any amount that humans have any chance of removing...and as with Earth, it's still slowly coming in.
You do realize we've taken mass from the moon already, in the form of the Apollo moon rocks?
@James Merritt Thank you for your reply. I invite You to understand that I am aware of honest exchange. I believe a deal involves more than those who make it. I believe a deal also involves those whom it affects. I believe many tribal societies around the world expect this understanding in their members. I personally agree also with the individual responsibility, even after living in the U.S. for the last eleven years where so many who claim "rights" frequently do so in order to do what they want , not what they should in any moral sense, thus actually defending their humanity in the worst way by committing "wrong". I fell for this myself a few times. Just because someone can does not mean they should. I comprehend the mechanics of the business attitude too. This is a profound disappointment: If we move into the unknown of space we need to be aware of the possibility of a different business model to suit. If we are to emulate the bravery of the Early Spacefarers then we need, yes, to pay attention to those business concerns (e.g. those that arise from physics, not just commercial profit concerns) but, also, to the banishment of fear : remember greed stems from the fear of losing your livelihood, etc. I cannot respect profit as man-made, it was, is and always will be the human cognizance of the Almighty's doing and as such we should neither be vain about "our" achievements nor proud of our association with our location. I suffered through many leading minds messing this up here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbmFeEIKBFI (it is an hour and a half though.) Finally I may say two things.an entrepreneur may be of benefit in a temporary sense but it is basically an individual manipulating a power diagram. People are involved mass is involved but simply said it is not necessarily essential to progress. You may not be aware that at one point America had more electric and steam cars than gas cars. Or you might. If anyone had succeeded in incorporating both of these technologies in one vehicle, and if as many vehicles had been built and driven as far (as a hypothetical example) then the U.S. at least would have burned less than 50 % of the gas that we have. I short the many noted entrepreneurs in the auto industry ignored this awesome prospect because they not only believed in the market as a source of legitimate wealth, they also effectively controlled the market, thereby perpetuating the mistakes their knowledge was inadequate to address. Please re- read this if it doesn't seem to make sense the first time, I admit I am out of practice in terms of concise writing. Lastly I would submit that as both Dostoyevsky and Ghandi said in slightly different words: a society can be judged by its treatment of its least fortunate or most vulnerable: prisoners or animals. We cannot claim the legal or financial or judicial "right" to treat something else, alive or not, by only our own standards. By Its fact of existence, we are required to respect it on its own terms. Profit not merely comes second, but rather,not at all.
@Philly Jimi @Henry Lester Thank you for your reply, I have many graces, because I practice them. I am glad you noticed a concern, which is widely shared, over the "profit motive". I appreciate the sharing of your feelings on the matter, as well as the concurrence.
There are people thinking ahead to what can be done, occasionally I like to keep an eye on them. These people are starting to lay the legal groundwork now in order to start securing their business plans and thus they hope, their "share" of the profits which they appear to me to believe will occur when technology progresses only a little further. Virtually any contingency can be catered for.
Clearly, what we need is a gigantic bureaucracy to efficiently manage something which has not even started yet. Clearly. Also, we need to extend the authority of the most competent and thoughtfully administered agency on the planet, the glorious U.N.. While we are at it, this shining example of egalitarian democracy and effective policy should be granted ownership of the solar system, therefore allowing it to lease various celestial rights to whomever it chooses. After all, governments are the sole source of exploration and innovation, and we should crush creative/innovative individuals because their ideas never work out. And of course, we need taxes in space. We must prevent the evil corporations from stripping the wealth of the solar system for personal gain and environmental destruction, and make sure they behave ethically (Like the glorious U.N.). In fact, why stop there? Once Big Brother, oops, I mean the glorious U.N., has total control over all economic activities off the Earth, it will be free to choose the best way for space travelers and workers to live their lives. Remember, human nature is despicable, and only becomes righteous when a large government properly conditions it. And thank the gods; I would hate to make decisions for myself, and can't stand the thought of free enterprise marginalizing the collective good of all the world's people.
Second point, bit more concerned. Maybe those same insurance companies will make it impossible for the small businessperson-in- space just as they make it pretty hard for those of us on Earth now.
Additional point : The economic masters of the planet will try to keep the profit largely to themselves, There will be a big impact on the way all business is done on Earth, especially if uncontrolled imports of precious metals occur. And just how are you going to stop them once they are up there?
O.K. Gentlemen, 'preciate your Excellent statement and better than nothing reply, but some of us don't want to encourage the profiteering that is poisoning our Earth. Really rational thought would say : prove you are responsible before we trust you with so much as a flaming hydrogen atom. The Earth has finally come up with a U.N. Convention on the law at Sea, We still have the no mining,no military Antarctic treaty, and as has been pointed out here before,we could set up a similar treaty that frankly banned all non-scientific expeditions.Oh, all right, tourism and rescue.
How to Feed Our Growing Planet
National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.
The Innovators Project
Meet some of science's most important movers and shakers—from past and present.
Latest News Video
Mazes are a powerful tool for neuroscientists trying to figure out the brain and help us learn to grapple with the unexpected.