Recently, Congress gave the green light to a bill that will most likely make it legal for US companies to mine asteroids for minerals, in spite of the fact that it could be a breach of an international treaty that the U.S. had written years ago.
As stated in the bill, Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015, “any asteroid resources obtained in outer space are the property of the entity that obtained such resources, which shall be entitled to all property rights thereto.” The bill is explicitly contrived to protect the interests of American companies, such as, Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources that have since long shown interest in mining asteroids.
No more a pie-in-the-sky dream?
In 1967, the United States, got 124 other countries to sign a nonarmament treaty, the Outer Space Treaty stipulating the national appropriation of the moon or other celestial bodies.
The Congress is now bidding to give such companies an indemnify against competitors, be it foreign companies or nations. Several questions have raised with the Congress shelling out asteroids to private companies.
As per the Outer Space Treaty, anything exploited from space is by all accounts the property of all nations in the world. So, it one mining companies pools a platinum-group metals, it’s inherently going to rake money on it, rather than go on a philanthropic tour across all 196 countries in the world.
Case of a damned treaty
In May, the House Committee on Science gave the nod to the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act and commended that the full House of Representatives pass it. Moving past a series of stormy debates, committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX-21) articulated that the bill does not violate the law, and that the 1967 treaty is simply a series of guiding principles subject to legal interpretation, and not a binding law.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO-7) argued back saying that the language in the treaty is coherent. Although, the U.S. will need to explain to its treaty partners on how exploration and space faring for minerals will go, without getting into any disputes over the whole matter.
The bill gives the U.S. the power to prosecute anyone who mines an asteroids that another company is on, whether it is an American company or a foreign entity.
The bill, if passed will turn out to be a major cause of dispute against several allies worldwide. The Congress remains unshaken, due to the judgment that most foreign nations would “err on the side of America’s interest” as opposed to considering the limits of the treaty.
The committee suggested adoption of a more rational approach towards, i.e. altering the treaty in such a way that it allows activities like asteroid mining and space colonization. Would it be wise of the Congress to let an American company, that wants to mine asteroids put U.S. at the perils of flout an international treaty?