United States president Donald Trump recently found time to sign an executive order allowing the U.S to acquire resources from the Moon, Mars and outer space.
The order is named ‘Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources’. And it seems to effectively cancel out the international ‘Outer Space Treaty’ which came into effect in 1967.
“Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law,” read part of a statement on the official Whitehouse website.
“Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view it as a global commons.”
‘Water and certain minerals’
The U.S government is understood to have been considering the prospect of space mining for some time. But now the process is likely to be fast-tracked as private companies and wealthy entrepreneurs come on board.
“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,” read another section of the White House statement.
Why does America want to claim resources in space?
One reason behind space mining is simply that the earth is running out of natural resources. Material needed in the manufacture of cell-phones, for example, is extremely rare.
And there’s also the possibility to cut out the ‘middle man’ and increase profits.
“We are currently depleting the resources we have,” Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at University of Sussex, told the BBC.
“Metals such as lithium or cobalt – which you need – are mainly in places like China, Russia or Congo. And it’s difficult to get them.”
The Moon as a halfway filling station
Another theory is that due to the Moon’s relatively close location to earth, it could serve as a launching pad for missions to other planets located further away, such as Mars.
The resources needed for rocket fuel such as hydrogen and oxygen are present on the Moon. This would negate the need for additional fuel having to be transported from earth.
As much as anything else perhaps, America’s status as the world’s leading economic power is under threat.
“The U.S has lost the race – other countries are ahead, like China and Russia,” professor Sovacool said.
“It will be really attractive to people like President Trump if you are able to get minerals in a place where the Chinese aren’t – like space.”
Image credit: NASA