With Congress passing the new legislation known as the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, or SPACE Act of 2015, mankind takes one step closer to achieving the dream of establishing colonies in space.
If signed by President Barack Obama, the new law would allow American space companies to conduct explorations and mining of space resources from celestial bodies such as the moon and asteroids.
However, some observers have expressed concern that the SPACE Act could run counter to the regulations stated in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which was agreed upon by 104 countries including the United States.
Extraction of Space Resources from the Moon
The SPACE Act, in essence, recognizes and promotes the rights of private space exploration firms to harness the economic potential of celestial bodies, particularly the moon.
The legislation makes it possible for these companies to extract various space resources, which is broadly defined as any material found on the surface of the moon.
Moon Express is one of the commercial space companies currently vying for the rights to build mining facilities on the moon.
MoonEx co-founder and CEO Bob Richards said they are chiefly interested in extracting water found on the lunar surface, which they believe holds the key to realizing the economic potential of the natural satellite.
"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," Richards explained.
"Our initial goal is to locate and learn how to mine and stockpile the water on the moon. We're effectively after our first gusher."
NASA also has its own versions of water extracting activities for the moon. The American space agency said if human colonies are ever to be built on the moon, then it is crucial to secure a source of water first.
Agency scientists pointed out that it is much easier and cheaper to have a source of water on the lunar surface than it is to have to transport water from Earth to the moon.
Outer Space Treaty of 1967
Despite the potential benefits that the SPACE Act could entail, such as to the development of space faring capabilities, some observers believe the new legislation could lead to violations of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.
The treaty was designed to ensure that the use and exploration of outer space will be conducted for the interests and benefit of all countries.
It also prevents the appropriation of outer space by any nation by virtue of sovereign claim through use, occupation or any other means.
The SPACE Act tries to work around the regulations of the treaty by claiming that the United States does not assert its sovereignty, jurisdiction, or ownership of any celestial body.
Richards compared the rights provided to space companies by the SPACE Act to those provided to commercial fishers when fishing in international waters.
He said that fishers have the right to catch fish peacefully in international waters that they do not own. These companies, however, have the right to own the fish they obtain from these territories.
While legal experts are still debating about the possible repercussions the SPACE Act could have on international law, most believe that Pres. Obama will likely sign the new act into law.
Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | Flickr