As the U.S. and the world continue to struggle to contain the mortality and economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the planet, President Donald Trump on Monday issued an executive order encouraging American companies to look to the skies for resource extraction opportunities on the Moon and beyond—generating bemusement and anger from critics.
"There is literally nothing valuable enough on the moon that would justify the expense of mining and transporting it," tweeted writer and game developer Rani Baker. "This is a plan a literal child would come up with."
Get in, losers. Papa Trump is sending you to work in the moon mines. https://t.co/HZeHiDBDZ9
— Ken Layne (@KenLayne) April 7, 2020
Trump's "Executive Order on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources" explicitly rejects the notion that space is a "global commons" for humanity. While 18 of the world's nations have affirmed the 1979 U.N. Moon Agreement—which encourages countries to treat the celestial body as neutral ground—the new order notes that the U.S. does not feel bound by the treaty and instead encourages private companies to pursue extractive opportunities in outer space.
"Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law," the order states. "Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view it as a global commons."
New executive order “makes clear that the US doesn’t view space as a ‘global commons’, opening the way for the mining of the moon without any sort of international treaty.” https://t.co/b6DUCbZw1Z
— Atossa Araxia Abrahamian (@atossaaraxia) April 8, 2020
The economic benefit of resource extraction from the moon is at best limited to lunar exploration as the costs of transporting materials back to Earth is not worth it, as Gizmodo's Tom McKay explained:
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Note that it is unclear whether the Moon does, in fact, have resources worth the cost of extracting in the foreseeable future. Per Space.com, it is believed to have large quantities of helium-3 of possible use in fusion reactors, though it is finite and the total amount is unclear. It also has water, which would be worthless to bring back to Earth but would be very valuable in setting up long-term human habitation.
The costs of mining these materials and returning them to Earth is purely speculative; it would be of far greater use enabling lunar industry.
Trump has made outer space a focus of his foreign policy, officially signing an order announcing the formation of the Space Force as a branch of the military in December 2019. As Common Dreams reported, the move drew condemnation from China, which called Trump's order a step forward in the "weaponization of outer space."
The language of Monday's Moon exploration and resource extraction order, which rejects international law and treaty obligations over "use of the Moon, Mars, or other celestial bodies," was decried by the Russian space agency Roscosmos as a pretext for future U.S. attempts at seizure of other planets.
"Attempts to expropriate outer space and aggressive plans to actually seize territories of other planets hardly set the countries [on a path] for fruitful cooperation," Roscosmos deputy head Sergey Saveliev said on Tuesday.