Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Property Rights, Investment, and Private Exploitation of Space

Imagine for a moment that you own a company that mines say, Nickel, and makes nickel alloys for a moment. You know where there is a HUGE deposit of Nickel. Larger than any known deposit, and nobody owns it or has a claim on it. But to exploit it, you will have to design a whole new way of mining it and invest a lot of money. Would you be willing to spend that money and do that development if you could not legally exert a claim over the mine? Or even own the refined nickel produced? That is the current state of affairs when it comes to the exploitation of space borne resources. Thanks to the UN Outer Space Treaty, signed and ratified back in 1966, it is illegal for any country or the citizens thereof, to establish any claim on any celestial body. This includes the moon, and the other planets, as well as the asteroids, and comets. Therefore, there cannot be any mineral exploitation of any celestial body.

The asteroids are chockablock FULL of Iron, Nickel, Aluminum, Lithium, Silicon (and combine that with access to the best vacuum money can't buy, it makes for excellent solar panel and semiconductor manufacturing), gold, platinum, you name it. The lunar soil is full of He3 which is thought to be possibly useful for fusion power generation. The Jovian moons are full of all sorts of exotic hydrocarbons and liquid and frozen water. Mercury is full of all sorts of heavy elements. Even the Venusian, Martian, and Jovian atmospheres are full of industrially important gases. In fact the Martian and Venusian atmospheres can even be converted to Natural Gas.

There are riches beyond belief quite literally littering the heavens, but it is all out of bounds. Industry cannot touch it. Why? Because it would be illegal to own any of it. If the human race is really serious about making the exploration and exploitation of space by private entities a reality, then the profit motive has to be there. Profit derives from the right to own property. If you may not own anything, you cannot make a profit. Would the great explorers of history been willing to risk their lives if they were not allowed to profit from their explorations? Would the governments that underwrote their explorations been willing to do so if they could not make a claim on the lands they explored?

This treaty must be altered to allow private entities to stake claims of ownership on celestial resources.


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