Donald Trump‘s latest executive order comes straight out of science fiction: He’s officially called dibs on outer space. All of it.
The order, titled “Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources,” calls for an international effort to determine how we should all divvy up outer space. On the surface that sounds like a good idea. The US is on the verge of setting up a permanent Moon base and now seems like a great time to sort out the economical and financial logistics.
Per a White House statement describing the order:
Supportive policy regarding the recovery and use of space resources is important to the creation of a stable and predictable investment environment for commercial space innovators and entrepreneurs, and it is vital to the long-term sustainability of human exploration and development of the Moon, Mars, and other destinations.
The above part seems fine. The next part gets a bit spooky though:
The Executive Order also affirms Congress’ intent that Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law.
That last part “consistent with applicable law,” is the interesting bit. The Moon Treaty of 1979 predicted this sort of run on resources. It says that an international committee should be convened to sort out the specific issues of territory and resources beyond the Earth. But the US never agreed to it.
It’s current stance, per the White House statement, is:
Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view space as a global commons.
The executive order specifically refutes the 1979 Moon Treaty:
Sec. 2. The Moon Agreement. The United States is not a party to the Moon Agreement. Further, the United States does not consider the Moon Agreement to be an effective or necessary instrument to guide nation states regarding the promotion of commercial participation in the long-term exploration, scientific discovery, and use of the Moon, Mars, or other celestial bodies. Accordingly, the Secretary of State shall object to any attempt by any other state or international organization to treat the Moon Agreement as reflecting or otherwise expressing customary international law.
This is US nationalism in outer space. And, perhaps, the most ambitious attempt by a political party to exploit government agency for individual, personal profits. This is evidenced in the final passage in the statement:
American industry and the industries of like-minded countries will benefit from the establishment of stable international practices by which private citizens, companies and the economy will benefit from expanding the economic sphere of human activity beyond the Earth.
In a statement to Reuters, Russian space agency Roscomos levied accusations of expansionism at the US President, saying his efforts would hinder diplomacy:
Attempts to expropriate outer space and aggressive plans to actually seize territories of other planets hardly set the countries (on course for) fruitful cooperation.
It’s obvious that Trump‘s setting the stage for a “gold rush” on the Moon and other territories in space. Unfortunately, only a handful of countries are in a position to compete for the right to draw their own extra-terrestrial borders. And, arguably, none so perfectly perched as the US to swoop in and take whatever it wants.