On the heels of NASA laying out the Artemis Mission’s plans to colonize the Moon (and beyond!) for scientific, political, and economic purposes, now President Trump is creating an executive order to kickstart mining Earth’s resource-rich satellite.
Even with all the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus epidemic, along with its potential effect on the current bill before congress that could delay NASA’s 2024 Artemis target date, Trump has his eyes on making money. As such, on Monday, the president created the “Executive Order on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources,” effectively putting the world on notice that the Moon is open for business.
“Successful long-term exploration and scientific discovery of the Moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies will require partnership with commercial entities to recover and use resources, including water and certain minerals, in outer space,” the order states early on.
The order goes on to re-reject 1979’s Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, the so-called “Moon Agreement,” which neither the United States nor any space-faring nation has ratified. That agreement, adopted by the United Nations, builds upon 1967’s Outer Space Treaty, and basically says the Moon and other celestial bodies should only be utilized for peaceful purposes, and their environments shouldn’t be disturbed.
"The [executive] order reaffirms US support for the 1967 Outer Space Treaty while continuing to reject the 1979 Moon Agreement," Scott Pace, deputy assistant to the president and executive secretary of the National Space Council, said in a release (via CNET). "The order further clarifies that the United States does not view outer space as a 'global commons,' and it reinforces the 2015 decision by Congress that Americans should have the right to engage in the commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space."
So basically, Trump is rejecting the idea of outer space as a “global commons,” and letting future business partners know that Moon mining is a viable business adventure, and this order is intended to help with the legal framework to make that explicitly so. Or as the order says, the U.S. will seek to negotiate “joint statements and bilateral and multilateral arrangements with foreign states regarding safe and sustainable operations for the public and private recovery and use of space resources.”
Granted, as with any order that comes from this executive, we’ll have to do some heavy digging to uncover all the fine print. Which may be the very thing that Moon director Duncan Jones was thinking when he came across the news.
Of course, Jones knows a thing or two about Moon mining, as his 2009 instant-classic sci-fi film (pictured above) stellarly explored the exploration of the dark side of the Moon for all its sweet, sweet lunar sourced helium-3 fuel.
Obviously, Jones isn’t the only one with thoughts on the matter. The Russian space agency Roscosmos came out against the order yesterday, saying it’s antithetical to the idea of space belonging to all of humanity, and creates a basis for the U.S. to conceivably start setting up shop on other celestial bodies.
The agency stated (per Reuters) that any efforts to privatize space would be “unacceptable,” and that “attempts to expropriate outer space and aggressive plans to actually seize territories of other planets hardly set the countries (on course for) fruitful cooperation.”
So yeah, there’s still much more information to mine on this one.