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Who Owns That Asteroid?

When US astronauts planted an American flag on the moon, it made other countries nervous because it seemed as if our country might be "claiming" it. Now space lawyers say that the international legal system must be improved and expanded before any products that are space-mined from asteroids are brought back to Earth to sell.

If plans to use robots to mine asteroid succeed, it would create its fair share of confusion about mining rights in space--from who owns what to how business interests beyond Earth's orbit would be specifically protected.

Not many people know that there actually IS a treaty that supposedly protects all this-- the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which forms the basis of international space law and to which all space-faring nations are a party. The treaty says that outer space constitutes a “global commons,” which means that extraterrestrial bodies can never be part of one country such as the United States, which therefore means that US laws to protect public or private business interests likely cannot be applied.

Space law specialist Frans von der Dunk says, "Neither the pubic interests, ranging from security, safety and the environment to protecting Neil Armstrong’s footsteps, nor the interests of the company in securing its investments are properly protected. Consequently, there is no legal certainty that those activities would not become seriously challenged."

If Iraq can't agree on a way to divide up their oil, will the world ever be able to agree on a method to divide up the valuable minerals in space?

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