We are in the golden age of space exploration and with each passing day we are venturing deep into the space. It’s inevitable that the question about the governorship of outer space and the ownership of celestial bodies (Moon, asteroids, planets etc) must be asked and answered.
Let’s imagine that its year 2070. A big asteroid full of precious metals is making a close pass by Earth. Two countries US and China decided to tow this celestial body for mining precious metals. So who has the right to mine the asteroid? If we go by the present space laws, there is no clear answer.
Currently exploration of space is controlled by the UN Outer Space Treaty of 1967. A 129 countries, including China, Russia, the UK and the US, are signatories to this treaty, which is overseen by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.
It says that “the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind.” But the treaty is marred by loopholes. When it was drafted, exploitation of space and its resources was very much still a matter of science fiction.
The second biggest treaty governing the space law is the Moon Agreement (1979). But it’s a non-starer as only 16 countries have ratified it. Last year the US congress passed the Space Act of 2015 into law.
The legislation will give US space firms the rights to own and sell natural resources they mine from bodies in space, including asteroids. But it doesn’t let them out-rightly own an asteroid. As you can see that unless we frame clear cut policies, the future exploitation of the ‘final frontier’ could ignite tensions between nations.