Policy ForumSPACE POLICY

U.S. policy puts the safe development of space at risk

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Science  09 Oct 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6513, pp. 174-175
DOI: 10.1126/science.abd3402

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Summary

In September 2020, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that it is seeking proposals from private companies to extract small amounts of regolith from the surface of the Moon. According to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the exercise will buttress an interpretation of international space law that is favored by the U.S. government: “What we're trying to do is make sure that there is a norm of behavior that says that resources can be extracted and that we're doing it in a way that is in compliance with the Outer Space Treaty” (OST) (1). NASA's move is part of a larger U.S. diplomatic effort. In April 2020, President Trump signed an executive order (EO) that affirmed a right of commercial space mining and directed the U.S. State Department to secure the expressed support of U.S. allies. Shortly after, NASA announced a plan for bilateral Artemis Accords, which, if accepted by many nations, could enable the U.S. interpretation of international space law to prevail and make the United States—as the licensing nation for most of the world's space companies—the de facto gatekeeper to the Moon, asteroids, and other celestial bodies. Because acquiescence is often treated as consent in international law, even NASA's purchase of regolith would, if not protested by other nations, strengthen the U.S. interpretation. Other nations need to speak up, now.

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