President Donald Trump signed a decree today (April 6) establishing American policy on the exploitation of extraterrestrial resources. This policy highlights that the current regulatory regime – notably Outer Space Treaty of 1967 – allows the use of these resources.
This opinion has long reigned in the circles of the American government. For example, the United States, like other major space nations, did not sign the 1979 Moon Treaty, which stipulates that the unscientific use of space resources must be governed by an international regulatory framework. And in 2015, Congress passed a law explicitly authorizing American businesses and citizens to use the resources of the moon and asteroids.
Related: The search for water on the moon (photos)
New Executive Order Makes It Even More Formal, Stressing The United States Does Not Consider Space As A “Global Common Good” And See A Clear Path To Above-Ground Mining, Without Need To Find other international agreements at treaty level.
The decree, “Encouraging international support for the recovery and use of space resources”, has been in the works for about a year, a senior administration official said today in a teleconference with journalists. The order was motivated, at least in part, by a desire to clarify the position of the United States as it negotiates with international partners to help move NASA Artemis program for crewed lunar exploration, added the official. (Engagement with international partners remains important, said the official.)
Artemis aims to land two astronauts on the moon in 2024 and to establish a lasting human presence on and around the Earth’s closest neighbor by 2028. Lunar resources, in particular water ice which would be abundant on Permanently shaded soils of polar craters, are essential for Artemis’ grand ambitions, said NASA officials.
The moon is not the final destination for these ambitions. Artemis is designed to help NASA and its partners learn to support deep space astronauts for long periods of time, lessons that will be essential to putting boots on Mars, which NASA wants to do in the 2030s.
“As America prepares to bring humans back to the moon and travel to Mars, this decree establishes America’s policy for the recovery and use of space resources, such as water and certain minerals, in order to encourage space commercial development, “Scott Pace, deputy assistant to the president and executive secretary of the US National Space Council, said today in a statement.
President Trump has shown considerable interest in the development of American space policy. In December 2017, for example, signed the directive on space policy-1, which laid the groundwork for the Artemis campaign. Two other directives aimed to rationalize commercial space regulations and space traffic control protocols. And the directive on space policy-4, which the president signed in February 2019, called for the creation of Space force, the first new American military branch since the creation of the Air Force in 1947.
Mike Wall is the author of ” Over there“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book on the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.