It may be quite some time before private corporations begin to mine the moon, but that hasn't stopped the international scientific community bringing up the legality of such a venture. Experts say, though, that it's legal.
Is mining the moon possible? Definitely. Is extracting resources from the Moon ethical? That’s subjective. But the question arising is if it’s legal. Experts say yes with a but.
First off, why mine the moon’s resources? Our satellite has a vast amount of water ice, which has been accumulating for billions of years. It’s believed to be easy to access and quite pure – something that our planet is going to severely lack in the future.
Space.com recently discussed the future of moon mining, the legality and what it would mean. According to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (otherwise known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies), private corporations and sovereign nations are allowed to conduct such activities on the Moon and other celestial bodies. However, it’s not known, right now, if the corporations and countries would own what they take out of the ground.
Some of the treaty’s principles include:
- “The exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind.”
- “The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.”
- “States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects.”
“Experienced space lawyers interpret the treaty to allow mining,” said Wayne White, a space-law expert. “I have never seen anybody argue that you couldn't use mineral resources. "If the Moon Treaty wants to regulate how we use natural resources in outer space, then that presumes that it's legal to do so under the Outer Space Treaty.”
Meanwhile, Timothy Nelson, also a space-law expert, called the endeavor “a gray area” and compared Moon mining to the high seas: “The idea that you can't claim sovereignty is not necessarily incompatible with the right to go conduct mining operations,” said Nelson. “The high seas are not subject to any sovereignty, but people can go and fish there."
In the end, according to Yahoo! News, many space entrepreneurs argue that resources in space, if mined, would not be used to their full potential because of the legality issue and whether or not the private entity has complete ownership.
At the present time, the Obama administration has not expressed a desire to conduct any Moon exploration projects. However, nations such as China, India and Russia are all planning future missions to the moon, mainly for the purpose of resource development.
With our planet’s finite resources coming to an end, the race to the moon could heat up over time. The moon has immense resources and China has already launched a mission that could see robotic explorers mining for Helium 3 by the year 2020.