I found myself following a thread in a Yahoo group recently, whose topic “Multi-planetary species”, was rounding several points from UFO’s, to the probability of other space faring species, to the politics, and economics of the Outer Space Treaty. The discussion covered ideas that included the premise that business would get “out there” first, and bring ore, and products back to Earth. There were questions of ownership, trespassing, and others. I was reminded of stories, books, tv, movies, and historical records that chronicled the American West, and the Austrialian outback.
So what’s wrong with the current view?
What could posses people to assume that when we send our first fledgling rockets carrying robots, and/or humans into space, that it will be mere years before huge profits will be realized from their efforts? Our technology? The Billionaire club currently supporting the likes of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Paul Allen? In the days of the Pilgrims (1600’s), the ships they travelled in and on were the best technology of the day … for cargo. So too, our ships today are great for cargo, but we’re still working on the people part.
History is replete with records and tales of the arduousness of sea journeys to the new world and Austrailia, much less South America, or Africa. They travelled in squallid conditions, ripe with disease, starvation, scurvy, even abuse, not to mention storms, sharks, and the ever-rolling sea. Today’s risks are not to far from those of the early settlers; radiation, limited food, air, water resources; then there’s radiation, and the cold void of space.
I am sure that there were advertisements and news articles, expounding on the adventure, thrill, and novelty of settling in “the americas”. There will undoubtedly be similar articles, advertisements in the coming years. This in addition to the indentured servitude, slavery, and other means people were coerced to board the ships. Even in the “enlightened” 1800-1900’s the poor travelled in seriously challenging situations to cross the atlantic and make a new start. Those who came to America, and later Austrailia dreamed of a new start, in a new land of opportunity – despite the realities they discovered on arrival.
What makes us think that settling space will be any different?
For the most part, it was first come first owner, most of whom were families with a one shot opportunity to survive or die. Then came “landowners” and “barons”, with money, who came in and mostly, paid for land (honestly or dishonestly) because they saw value. Then the law arrived, whether as local sheriff, or federal marshall, or US Calvary, larger interests were beginning to play out. For most who deigned to stake a claim in the west, it was years, or decades before they saw anyone else. The US government, British Crown, cared little for the settlers in the American West, or Austrailian outback until larger organizations like “Territories”, followed by “Statehood” presented the opportunity for new revenue, and voters to get the politicians attention. Columbus “found” the America’s in 1492, and settlements didn’t start for nearly 70 years, then it was another 150 years before things actually started to turn foul, as Britain attempted to enforce it’s will.
How do I think Space Settlement will proceed?
When people arrive on the moon and mars, they will get there as private citizens, as paying passengers on a private company’s ship. Now, that payment might be as an Independent Contractor with a franchise contract from a company on Earth, or an entrepreneur who “Kickstarted” his ticket; either way, they will be Individuals, frontiersmen, likely striking out alone, like the early trappers of the north country.
The first products to be produced in a settlement will likely be air, water, and food. Without these, the settlers will not be able to survive. The drive to be self-sustaining will be very strong. As they develop their crops, to produce more than they need, and as other settlers trickle onto the frontier, commerce will begin there, between them. NOT WITH EARTH. And in fact, as settlements begin to open farther out, it will be these closer settlements that will provision them for their journey outward. This is much like the provisioning that occured in St Louis and other cities along the Mississippi in the 1800’s for the wagon trains that departed for the west.
What about Law and Order and the Outer Space Treaty?
It will evolve, just as it did in the American West and Australian Outback. As the settlements grow, first rules of order, then laws will be enacted locally, to address the issues that arise. Will Earth Law, Earth Governments, or treaties apply? Not likely. Why? Because Earth’s authority is a minimum 7 days travel time away. And that at extensive risk and expense. We here on Earth have more than enough to worry about rather than worrying about some farmers or miners on the moon or Mars. They can learn to get along. We have to protect our jobs, markets, economy, and tax revenue.
In reality, these farmers and miners can arguably be disassociated from the nation-state they left, and thus likely have limited standing under the OST. They will stake a claim, set up housekeeping, and generate some product or service – NOT NECESSARILY AFFILIATED WITH ANY EARTH COMPANY. Those services from small farms, and mining operations will be small but true Ground Floor operations.
There will, eventually, be those who with an agreement, operate as an agent of a corporation on Earth. And that company will undoubtedly be subject to applicable taxes, tarriffs, or other fees just like any citizen in a foreign country on Earth does. There IS a legal framework in place that likely will handle most issues as they arise.
Their products and services will not likely be sent to Earth, but rather offered to the Exploration, or Settlement ships passing on to their destinations. The economy of space farming, mining, even power is more likely to remain in space rather than endure huge tarrifs, customs expenses, or other “protectionist” fees to price their products out of the current markets. It is likely that private citizens on the Moon or Mars will not recognize any Earth Treaty and deem anyone crossing their property lines as trespassers/aggressors, and treat them accordingly, with prejudice – frontier justice.
Britain tried to force the colonies to comply …
But the OST suggests Earth governments must enforce the responsibilities of their citizens! Now, the investment the “Mother” country must expend to enforce ANY treaties between governments on Earth upon space settlements is HUGE!! Even at three days transit from Earth orbit to the moon, the investment to build resources for an assault on a settlement isn’t worth the backlash from their voting districts, who are forever crying for revenue, jobs, and any other favors they can get. England struggled with just these issues in dealing with the early colonies.
So, what I’m saying is that the OST and the Moon Treaty sound great, and are, I suppose, reasonable attempts, but enforcement is a real problem, much less the resources to execute that enforcement, and more importantly the will of the politicians to get involved.
But won’t private business open it up with robotics?
Finally, for anyone trying to say Business interests will get there first … nope, nada, just not economically feasable, nor financially sustainable. When the novelty wears off with the introduction of space products, protectionist policies will undoubtedly rear their head to “protect” valuable markets and jobs on Earth. Second, and more importantly … Business NEVER succeeded on any frontier untill long after shops, farms, and communities had been established and needed trade routes for their products. And if you’re going to bring up the Hudson Bay Company … don’t. They were founded in 1670, long after traders and trading posts, and early communities had established the supply and demand that found it’s way back to Europe. So, too, I believe, will individual humans precede business entities into space, or at a minimum, be sponsored by business.
A note about robotics. In the nearly 5 years since Curiosity landed on Mars, it has travelled a whopping 9.5 miles distance. That’s about a mile and 3/4 per year. Why? Several really good reasons. First, there is only so much power in the rover’s batteries, second, the “drivers” here on earth need time to assess the path, any obstacles, or interests before permitting the vehicle to continue; and third, it takes time to charge the batteries from the solar panels in martian sunlight. If we consider that the NASA robot is bleeding edge for robotics in 2011, what can we look forward to in business’ versions? The challenges are weight, power, recharging, and resources to process any ore or ice that is mined-not to mention the much lower gravity. Given that the oldest industry on Earth, mining (100,000 years), has only in the past decade begun to integrate robots into mines, it is safe to say that space-bots have a ways to go before we get huge quantities of ore delivered to Earth orbit. Heavy machinery does a lot of the work on Earth, machinery not available for asteroids. Human interaction is required throughout the mining process, despite huge advances in autonomous vehicles, drills, etc. And one final note – who’s going to repair the ‘bot, when it breaks down? Not IF.