“By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including title IV of the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (Public Law 114-90), it is hereby ordered as follows:
Section 1. Policy. Space Policy Directive-1 of December 11, 2017 (Reinvigorating America’s Human Space Exploration Program), provides that commercial partners will participate in an “innovative and sustainable program” headed by the United States to “lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.” 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.
Uncertainty regarding the right to recover and use space resources, including the extension of the right to commercial recovery and use of lunar resources, however, has discouraged some commercial entities from participating in this enterprise.” (The White House)
President Trump signed this executive order on 6 April. I’m glad to see our government is not totally consumed by the coronavirus. This is a far thinking and prudent action. The EO designates the State Department as the US lead in forging an international agreement covering the extraction and use of resources from the Moon, asteroids, Mars and beyond. No one is happy with the existing “Moon Agreement” formulated in 1979 and ratified by just 18 countries. That agreement declares all outer space resources the common inheritance of all humanity, a global commons, sort of a grand national park. Let’s face it. No one is going to invest millions and billions of dollars just for a trip to a galactic park. They want to extract stuff from those celestial bodies and make money. Makes sense, and this was the same motivation for the Age of Exploration. But “I’ll do that for a dollar” just doesn’t have the same ring as “Because it’s there.”
One of the first things this new treaty must address is how does a company or country stake a claim. Do we have first dibs on the Sea of Tranquility since we planted a flag there? Is Jade Rabbit claiming the Von Karman Crater on the far side of the Moon for China? Will we see a lunar version of the French-Spanish rivalry in old Florida when Pedro Menéndez de Aviles killed Jean Ribault and more than 250 French Huguenots at Matanzas Inlet? Maybe it’ll just be a battle of killer robots. Perhaps this will be the first transorbital mission of the US Space Force.
https://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/secrets-spanish-florida-full-episode/3666/ (A fascinating “Secrets of the Dead” PBS documentary on the early history of Florida. I wholeheartedly recommend it. What else do you have to do?)