Monday, November 16, 2015 by Greg White
The future is here. Just recently, the Senate passed a space bill which legalizes the mining of asteroids and prohibits the enslavement of aliens. While this gesture of goodwill is very much appreciated by alien enthusiasts, let’s just hope our extraterrestrial friends equally appreciate it and return the favor.
The Space Act of 2015 aims to encourage the private space industry with an “extended learning period,” thereby allowing space flight companies to operate with minimum government interference. Furthermore, it also intends to give companies the right to the resources they might extract from asteroids, like platinum and water.
“This bill will keep America at the forefront of aerospace technology, create jobs, reduce red tape, promote safety, and inspire the next generation of explorers,” Chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Congressman Lamar Smith, said in a press release.
The bill passed the Senate with uniform approval and minor amendments. A former version of the bill passed the House in May by a vote of 284 to 133 with significant bipartisan support. It will then be passed back to the House of Representatives, which will likely approve the changes, and then proceed to President Obama.
The bill has yet to be passed into law. Nevertheless, Planetary Resources, a company that plans to extract resources from asteroids, already issued a thank you letter to Congressmen who supported the bill.
“Many years from now, we will view this pivotal moment in time as a major step toward humanity becoming a multi-planetary species,” said Planetary Resources Co-Chairman Eric Anderson in the press release. “This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and it will foster the sustained development of space.”
Presently, it’s still unclear whether space mining is legal. Nothing expressively prohibits private companies from mining asteroids. However, the Outer Space Treaty notes that no nation can own the property of space. The wording of the bill, however, is made intentionally ambiguous to ensure private companies own the material they mine from asteroids prior to investing billion of dollars trying to extract them.
The bill grants property rights to private companies under U.S. law, although the companies can’t own the asteroids themselves. The most recent version of the bill reads:
“A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.”
The most interesting change made to the bill is the introduction of the word “abiotic.” This specifies living organisms in space are not resources; therefore, they cannot be owned as property. In other words, the bill ensures private companies cannot enslave aliens.
The bill also ensures that the United States does not claim sovereignty over celestial bodies, in order to avoid upsetting other countries.
“It is the sense of Congress that by the enactment of this Act, the United States does not thereby assert sovereignty or sovereign or exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any celestial body.”
This declaration is crafted to avoid a previous problem with the bill, according to Michael Listner, lawyer and founder of the consulting firm Space Law and Policy Solutions. The U.S. can’t own property in space, including pieces of property. The whole is identical to the sum of its parts.
“It would be like you asking me for a piece of pie, and me saying, go over to my neighbor’s house and take a piece of their pie, and then come back and thank me for it,” Listner told Popular Science. He believes there should have been more international discussion before the law is passed.
The success of private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Bigelow Aerospace have ignited a resurged interest in the space race. The bill takes precautionary measures against the enslavement of aliens, just in case the space race has already been won.