February 15, 2021
Will Mars Become a Sovereign Planet? (And Other Space Related Problems)
In the recent TV series “Mars”, scientists are pitted against would-be profiteers. A conflict arises over biological sampling of underground water by the scientists prior to the entrepreneurs drilling a well, the act of which could contaminate the underground water source, thereby rendering any detection of Martian life uncertain as to its origin.
In the September 8, 2016, issue of Nature magazine, it was stated, ” Although scientists might love to investigate the streaks (of running water) at close range, strict international rules prohibit (the) Curiosity (rover) from touching any part of Mars that could host liquid water, to prevent contamination.” With such restrictions, we must ask ourselves, how then will we ever detect extraterrestrial life?
Further restrictions on what one can and cannot do in space are currently governed by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Let’s take a look at what is says:
The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries.
So when and if someone or same nation eventually lands on Mars, in what way must their use of the land benefit all countries?
Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.
But what if a group of individuals, likely comprised of citizens of many different Earth nations, decides that they (not being an Earth nation) decides that they want to claim Martian sovereignty?
Read on to Articles VI and VIII.
The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty.
In other words, the Treaty states that private enterprises (1) need permission just to leave the Earth and (2) have to follow their nation’s laws even though they are millions of miles away. Something else to ponder: Imagine a space colony comprised of residents from 10 different countries, all living together as one, but each person subject only to the specific laws of their home country back on Earth. I don’t see that working out too well.
A State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body.
All stations, installations, equipment and space vehicles on the moon and other celestial bodies shall be open to representatives of other States Parties to the Treaty on a basis of reciprocity.
Really? So if someone from another country lands their spaceship near mine, then I am obligated to let them sleep over at my place any time they wish, use my toothbrush, eat my food, and to borrow the multi-million dollar equipment I brought with me, even though they may not be qualified to use it? I mean, really?
State Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose. If a State Party to the Treaty has reason to believe that an activity or experiment planned by it or its nationals in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, would cause potentially harmful interference with activities of other States Parties in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, it shall undertake appropriate international consultations before proceeding with any such activity or experiment.
I guess this leaves out the building of any structures on Mars, and you can totally forget the idea of terraforming.
To add fuel to the fire, the 2020 Artemis accords stipulate…”No country can claim sovereignty, use or occupy, or occupy space in any other way.”
So does this prevent a group of individuals, not an Earth nation, from claiming sovereignty?
On a positive note, the U.S. Congress passed a law in 2015 permitting American companies to mine and sell off-Earth resources. How this affects other nations or the Treaty is up for question.
American history books reference the Declaration of Independence from the British Crown as the greatest moment in the history of the United States. But if you were a citizen of Great Britain at the time, you would have looked at it as an act of sedition. In Great Britain’s eyes, America belonged to them.
During the American Civil War, Southerners felt justified in succeeding from the Union. However, if you were a Northerner, you did not look kindly on the actions of the South. Revolutions have been fought throughout history. Several are going on right now. Whether they are right or wrong depends on whose side you’re on. Animals often fight over water holes, other mark their territory and defend it, sometimes, only to lose it to a more powerful adversary.
The credo by the organization, Earthlight.org states, in part, “It is the inalienable right of all human (and sentient) beings to go any place in the universe, … to own the land or space on or within which they live,…(and) to (be) free to be governed by the inhabitants and citizens therein in any manner they see fit…”
In SpaceX’s Starlink Service Agreement, it states, in part, “The parties recognize Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities.”
So if Mars someday declares independence from Earth (maybe they’re sore about the Earth tea tax?!!), will they be judged as right or wrong? It depends on whether you’re a Martian or an Earthling. Theodore Roosevelt was famous for saying, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”
At the time the 1967 Outer Space Treat was written, no one really contemplated private or multinational space efforts. In addition, the Treaty was written at the time of the Cold War, and much of the language was America’s attempt at keeping other nations in check, at least on paper. Clearly, the 54 year old 1967 Treaty is well outdated and needs to be updated.
In the end, whatever you can defend is yours to keep, laws be damned. The person with the biggest stick gets to keep what he wants. So if Mars declares independence from Earth, will Earth just roll over and capitulate? Will there be peaceful negotiations? Or will we see a recreation of the space war in the James Bond movie, “Moonraker”, or perhaps a remake of a Star Wars episode with the “Alliance” facing the “Empire?” Only time will tell.
© 2021 Space Mission Architects, Inc.
Written by Ken Lunde, President and CEO of Space Mission Architects, Inc.
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Readers’ comments below may have been edited and/or truncated at the sole discretion of Space Mission Architects, Inc. to correct spelling, grammar, context, or to conserve space.
It’ll be interesting to see how the situation develops as humans gain capability to operate in and around Mars. Once it is possible for large numbers of people to live in that environment, I’d imagine the normal rules of human behavior will apply.
For a while it’ll be the Mandalorian on the surface and Pirates of the Caribbean in space… unless and until a large force is deployed to keep the peace.
I imagine we’ll develop artificial general intelligence and super intelligence long before we all collectively adopt non-violence and cooperation as basic practices, but until then, nothing about being in space will change the basic game of theoretical concerns (fighting over scare resources, etc.), and maybe not even after…
Therefore, when traveling to Mars, make sure to pack plenty of ammo 😊. As an aside, the same rules apply on the open ocean as well. Whenever sailing out of sight of land and the Coast Guard, it is wise to carry weapons on board. When encountering a strange or hostile vessel you are really on your own out there.
SMA “In the end, whatever you can defend is yours to keep, laws be damned. The person with the biggest stick gets to keep what he wants. ”
C.S. Yes. That is how international treaties currently work. Personally, I think self-governance will evolve out of the company town model. Whoever is generating the oxygen gets an extra vote.
The article certainly has an accurate comparison. The critical aspects of Mars sovereignty depends on the group/company which establishes (itself) first on Mars.
My opinion is that companies which aspire to be “Galactic Class”, in order to achieve sovereignty, must exhibit Galactic Class performance.
If an American and a Chinese person decide to have a baby on Mars, is the newborn a citizen on the United States, China, neither, or both?