On Monday, April 6, the President of the United States issued an Executive Order entitled “Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources.” You can read the order here:
The target of the order is the confusion in the international legal community regarding the recovery of space resources. The Moon Treaty, a document of which the US is NOT a signatory, is interpreted by some as greatly restricting the legality of space mining and resource recovery. Other lawyers think that the language of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, of which America IS a signatory, does not unambiguously authorize the use of space resources.
The Executive Order directs the US government, and in particular the State Department, to cut through the debate. Its going-in position is that “Successful long-term exploration and scientific discovery of the Moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies will require partnership with commercial entities to recover and use resources, including water and certain minerals, in outer space.” Furthermore, “Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law.”
Some people might be asking, “Why now? Why, when we’re dealing with the enormous challenge of the Covid-19 epidemic, would space activities be getting any attention?” My own opinion is that humanity needs something to look forward to, to inspire us, to realize that we are not trapped on this one sphere, to build hope that off-Earth resources can provide a scarcity-free future and a cleaner Earth.
The space industry will be challenged by Covid-19, just as will many other sectors of the economy. It’s easy to lose sight of the long-term vision in the middle of a crisis. One of the most important parts of the space industry is its small, highly skilled workforce. Perhaps the timing of this Executive Order is to reassure those engineers, technicians and investors that we have NOT lost sight of the goal, that there WILL be exciting new space missions, and that they WILL have incredibly rewarding careers making them happen.