As the pinnacle of the free world, the United States fittingly became the first nation to put a man on the moon in 1969. At the time, the intellectual elite thought that the Soviet Union would get there first because, to them, communism represented the progressive spearhead into the glorious future. However, once Armstrong and the guys had strolled in the moon dust for a while, the whole moon thing was largely forgotten as uninteresting and passé and was relegated to the dusty souvenir shelf in the attic. Been there, done that.
The laws regulating space are outdated and unenforceable, and many actors – both private and national – will lay claim to real estate.
Another communist regime, this time China, has decided to join the short list of moon-faring nations and plans to land an unmanned probe on the dark side of the Moon in the von Kármán crater in January 2019. A robot vehicle will zoom around and collect rock and dust samples. If everything goes well, they will be brought back to earth for inspection by eager Chinese scientists.
The crater is of scientific interest because cosmologists believe it is one of the oldest known meteor impacts in the solar system. They hope it might shed some light on the origins of our planets and moons.
The lunar probe will also measure the number of radio waves to see if it is a suitable place to build a radio telescope. The theory is that the moon shields much of the electromagnetic pollution from the earth on its far side and that it may, therefore, be an ideal place for astronomical observations.
But space is never just about science. It always has a political component. A few years ago, China reared its imperial ambitions by de facto annexing large parts of the South China Sea, which is, by global conventions, international waters. They did that by building artificial islands and then claiming that they owned all the seas around them. If they dared to do that with an ocean on the earth, where the United States, in part, polices international law, imagine their boldness in space where NASA can no longer even launch rockets.
Many people laughed when President Donald Trump announced the formation of the U.S. Space Force, the fourth branch of the armed forces, but chances are that future historians will view this as an act of great foresight. This may become needed sooner than people realize, as space could easily become the next great theater of war.
The U.N. has declared it to be a common, a form of socialistic ownership of the universe outside of earth’s atmosphere. Ironically, a communist dictatorship will probably be the first to contest this socialist treaty and establish parts of the moon as a national territory of China.
The laws regulating space are outdated and unenforceable, and many actors – both private and national – will lay claim to real estate. Mining companies will likely claim ownership of asteroids when they start their operations, and Elon Musk will probably lay claim to regions of Mars if he lands there. What will the rules of spacesteading be? Who will enforce them? No-one knows. It’s presently all up in the air – or space – but with China’s aggression in recent years, chances are that we will soon know more about the future of law and property rights in the solar system.