What drives innovation? If you were to ask corporate America, the answer would undoubtedly be money and competition. When a company invests millions of dollar it’s understandable that it expects to make that money back sometime in the future. Pharmaceutical companies invest billions to invent life saving medicines but they don’t do it for free, one of those inventions eventually pays off. Taking great risks for great rewards is what created some of the world’s most innovative products and solutions. The U.S. House of Representatives is hoping that private U.S. companies will continue to innovate in a new direction, outer space. In order to do that they want to create financial rewards, an incentive for their risk taking.
Today the Washington Post reported that the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act was passed. This piece of legislation recognizes U.S. companies’ right to space resources they may be able to extract from asteroids and other bodies in outer space, including the moon. Since NASA’s heavy budget cuts there has been a huge calling for private companies to fill the gap. Currently NASA is relying on our Russian partners to send astronauts into space, which is currently diverting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to a country we are not on the greatest of terms with. The move to monetize space exploration will hopefully stimulate more private U.S. companies to devote resources to innovate space exploration.
There are many valuable resources in space that could be monetized, one being water. There has been evidence that suggests there could be billions of gallons worth of ice water on the poles of the moon. Bob Richards, co-founder and CEO of Moon Express told the Washington Post, “Water is the oil of the solar system and can be used to create rocket fuel that changes the economics of space resources, not just on the moon, but throughout the solar system. So our initial goal is to locate and learn how to mine and stockpile the water on the moon.” One day in the far future we could colonize the moon. Water is essential to human life and it would be a lot easier to have it on the moon, rather than having to bring water from earth.
The moon technically belongs to no one. The U.S. signed the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which states, “No celestial body is subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” The legislation addresses this issue by assuring the U.S. in no way is asserting ownership over any celestial body, however it is permitting U.S. companies to the mineral rights underneath the celestial bodies. This is common in oil mining, where someone might own the property rights to the land, however someone else will own the mineral rights to the resources beneath that land.
When asked about what would happen if another country would try to argue these rights, Richard replied, “It’s hard to imagine what challenge China or any other country could mount against this U.S. legislation, which is about rights to materials obtained, not territory, and is really just codifying principles and rights already in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that have been demonstrated by multinational activities on the moon as applicable to the private sector.” Having the U.S. government back up these mineral rights on paper is a huge step into encouraging private space exploration.