The world may be racked by the coronavirus, but Donald Trump has less earthly concerns on his mind, too, after signing an executive order encouraging the US to mine the moon for minerals.
The executive order makes clear that the US doesn’t view space as a “global commons”, opening the way for the mining of the moon without any sort of international treaty.
“Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space,” the order states, noting that the US had never signed a 1979 agreement known as the moon treaty. This agreement stipulates that any activities in space should conform to international law. In 2015, the US Congress passed a law explicitly allowing American companies to use resources from the moon and asteroids.
According to Trump’s executive order, the US will object to any attempt to use international law to hinder its efforts to remove chunks of the moon or, should the opportunity arise, additional mining of Mars and “other celestial bodies”.
The Trump administration’s new zeal to commence the drilling of the moon is consistent with its enthusiastic support of mining back on Earth. The administration has opened up vast tracts of federal land for oil and gas drilling, with Trump rolling back various environmental laws in an attempt to revive the ailing coal industry.
Not all of the terrestrial drilling leases on offer have been taken up by fossil fuel companies, however, and it is uncertain what interest there is in the private sector to blast into space to mine the moon. The executive order states that the federal government will “require partnership with commercial entities to recover and use resources, including water and certain minerals, in outer space”.
Trump has taken a consistent interest in asserting American power in space, forming the Space Force within the US military last year to conduct space warfare where needed. The president appeared to be confused about the composition of space, however, when he tweeted in June that Nasa “should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part).”
It is unclear whether the president actually thinks the moon is a part of Mars but the two are in fact quite far apart – the moon, which orbits Earth, is around 238,000 miles away from our planet while Mars, which is itself a planet, is an average of 140m miles away from Earth.
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