Moon Mining And Space Lawyers

If you can get to the moon, can you mine its water legally? At least one legal expert thinks you'd be on shaky ground:

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 seems to permit extractive activities on the moon and other celestial bodies, according to space-law experts. But it's not entirely clear that mining companies would own the stuff that they extract. That fuzziness could be a problem for outfits contemplating a moon mining endeavor, which could have initial costs running into the tens of billions of dollars.

"As far as title goes, it's a gray area," international lawyer and space-law expert Timothy Nelson, who works for the firm Skadden in New York City, told SPACE.com. "And from a risk perspective, lack of clarity means it doesn't exist."

On the other hand, it is possible that the Moon Treaty of 1979 would allow it:

"Experienced space lawyers interpret the treaty to allow mining," space-law expert Wayne White, who works in the aerospace industry, told SPACE.com. "I have never seen anybody argue that you couldn't use mineral resources."

White and Nelson both referenced the Moon Treaty of 1979, which sought to set up a regime governing how the moon's resources would be used. The Moon Treaty remains more or less irrelevant today; it has been ratified by just a handful of nations, none of them big players in spaceflight and space exploration.

"If the Moon Treaty wants to regulate how we use natural resources in outer space, then that presumes that it's legal to do so under the Outer Space Treaty," White said.

Science fiction writers have been thinking about these issues for a long time. In his excellent 1941 story Jurisdiction, sf golden era great Nat Schachner writes about a space billionaire, his feisty daughter and a young space lawyer who gets the better of both of them. In the story, there was a discussion of asteroid claim law.

The mining of lunar ice was discussed thoroughly by Robert Heinlein in his 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress:

One shy little fellow with bloodshot eyes of old-time drillman stood up. "I'm an ice miner," he said. "Learned by trade doing time for Warden like most of you. I've been on my own thirty years and done okay... I should say did do okay... because today you have to listen farther out or deeper down to find ice. "That's okay, still ice in The Rock and a miner expects to sound for it..."
(Read more about fictional lunar ice mining)

Heinlein's use of this idea in a story was preceded by Caltech research scientists Kenneth Watson, Bruce C. Murray, and Harrison Brown in 1961..

From Space.com via Atomic Rockets.

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