1. Nasa is looking for private companies who want to help it get to the moon.
Some are saying this is the first step on the path to mining the moon for its rare earth metals and other resources. But the actual announcement from Nasa doesn’t mention mining at all. “It can’t be said that Nasa are looking to mine the moon just yet,” Professor Ian Crawford of Birkbeck University, London, told BuzzFeed.
2. From the announcement:
NASA anticipates that industry will eventually be able to provide commercial cargo transportation services to the lunar surface to both public and private customers. In addition to supporting commercial activities on the Moon, robotic lunar lander capabilities would also enable science, exploration, and other missions of interest to the larger scientific and academic communities.
3. That could be the first step towards mining the moon, but it would also give the academic community a chance to send scientific instruments there.
“If there was a private capability of landing on the moon, there would be a lot of scientific interest in that,” says Crawford.
4. The moon is thought to contain, among other things, rare earth metals and helium-3, which is used in nuclear fusion.
Helium-3 is not abundant on Earth, but some estimates say there should be millions of tons of it on the moon.
But we don’t yet know enough about what potential prospectors would find if they went to the moon to exploit its natural resources. “It’s too early to say they would find anything,” says Crawford.
5. Private moon mines would be theoretically possible, despite the fact that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty of the United Nations saying countries can’t lay claim to the moon.
The treaty also prohibits anyone from putting nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction on the moon, stating “the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.”
But it only covers what countries can do in space and doesn’t mention private companies or individuals. That led one man to claim he owns the moon (as well as several other solar system bodies) after writing a letter to the UN making his claim in 1980, and not recieving a reply.
6. In an interview on BBC Radio 4 last month, Crawford explained the importance of extending the law on who can do what in space.
There’s a case to develop international law before private companies get let loose on the moon.
If that is the future that pans out in the next 50 years it is quite important that we have an internationally agreed legal framework that ensures all of these people performing these activities in space are not getting in each other’s way.