Donald Trump has recently announced that he has given permission for the USA to start mining the moon for hydrogen and oxygen to enable spacecraft to refuel and go further for longer. But is he allowed to make this decision? Is the president of a single country (on earth) allowed to claim rights to the moon? This is one of many issues to which we need to turn to space law to find the answer. Here are five space laws you might not know, plus the answer to whether Trump is allowed to mine the moon.
1. Can I buy a star?
I’m going to start with the most questioned bit of space law: can you buy a star? For the full answer, check out our earlier blog post on this, but the short answer is no one has the rights to a star and, therefore, no one is able to sell you a star. You can, however, buy a beautiful star map from us. A personalized star map is much more useful!
2. Can I build a Death Star?
For those who aren’t familiar with Star Wars, a death star is a weapon of mass destruction. These were unilaterally banned in the 1967 Outer Space treaty at the United Nations. The UN are the main star law makers.
3. Can I build my house into space?
Space law began when President Eisenhower introduced the idea to the United Nations in 1957. It was a part of disarmament negotiations but they made a crucial agreement: no country can extend their territory indefinitely into the space above them. Unfortunately, this includes your house.
4. Can I become the ruler of the universe?
Well, maybe, but as far as United Nations space law allows, no country is allowed to lay claim to space territories. There is no “finders keepers” law, I’m afraid. It’s probably for the better!
5. What if a satellite lands on my car? Do I get compensation?
In the highly, highly unlikely event that an satellite lands on your car, yes, you will get compensation. The 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects is the law you will need to quote when you speak to your insurers!
6. Is Trump Allowed to Mine the Moon?
According to the Guardian, an “executive order says US will oppose any international effort to bar it from removing chunks of the moon, Mars or elsewhere in space.” Some will be outraged by the idea of moon, the symbol of romance and subject of music, poetry, stories and art, having its natural resources squandered by the USA. Others will look at this and say it’s just a show of strength, a part of their power games with the Chinese who are, incidentally, making greater progress in space at the moment.
Whether the plans go ahead is one thing, but are they legal plans? It looks like it. Nobody owns the moon so nobody can tell him not to. That’s the first thing. Furthermore, according to the ‘Moon Treaty’, the moon is allowed to be explored as long as they are for peaceful purposes. I suppose mining doesn’t physically hurt anyone? But it doesn’t matter: the USA never signed this 1979 agreement. On top of this, in 2015 US Congress gave permission for American companies to use resources from the moon (and asteroids). They may not go through with it, but Trump certainly wants everyone to know they could.
Most space laws we are governed by today were made at a time the world had much less space capabilities and, no doubt as time goes on, these laws will be subject to review and change. Many laws can seem to be solving one problem but simultaneously open up a new can of worms. We need to be careful going forwards. Today, it’s President Trump looking to refuel on the moon, tomorrow it could be death stars and satellites falling on your cars!