COMMENTARY | In a critique of an idea, recently advanced in Popular Science, of making the moon an International Park, albeit one in which some economic development is allowed, planetary scientist Paul Spudis had the following insight.
“While Greenwood uses Antarctica as a model for the Moon, in my mind, a better analogy is Alaska, a vast area (656,424 square miles) of great natural beauty and abundant resources. Alaska serves a multitude of purposes, including mining, fishing, oil and gas production, tourism, recreation and settlement, as well as maintaining and protecting vast reserves of national and state wilderness. No one could call Alaska a decimated paradise or an industrial wasteland – it is an immense landscape with room for every imagined activity, commercial and non-commercial. It is a harsh place, yet one where self-reliant humans migrated for profit, play and its wide-open spaces. It also has the virtue of being part of a self-governing republic, not an ‘administrative area’ controlled by international bureaucrats. And yet, even though the land has been developed and used, the people have conserved, protected and managed the landscape and resources of the state. But Greenwood points to the Antarctica ‘peaceful and scientific use of’ model, whereby the U.N. would own and control the Moon, thereby setting a precedent for the rest of the Solar System. Talk about throwing cold water on pioneering outer space! Greenwood’s suggestions certainly do that.”
Sarah Palin, Alaskan and, by all accounts, space enthusiast might be well advised to pay attention.
It is one of those insights that seems to be splendidly simple, once someone has actually expressed it. The moon has a great deal of potentially valuable resources, including water, platinum, and helium 3. It can also serve as a venue for tourism and for scientific exploration and research. Spudis’ insight is that if the people of Alaska can manage their state and its resources, the same model would serve for the moon.
The trick is how to accomplish it in the context of current diplomatic realities. Most space lawyers and diplomats suggest that laws governing the moon and other celestial bodies will come about as part of some evolving international consensus. Part of that consensus is, thanks to the Outer Space Treaty, that Earth bound nations cannot make sovereign claims on the moon, hence the United States would not be able to make it a territory or state, no matter what Newt Gingrich might desire. On the other hand, Spudis is right that leaving the matter to the United Nations or some other international body would be perilous indeed for any hopes of economic development.
One perhaps whimsical idea would be for the first people to return to the moon, presuming they are Americans and not Chinese, to declare that the moon is the Lunar Republic, a self governing entity not bound by the Outer Space Treaty, and thus capable of managing its resources as it sees fit. The United States could then instantly recognize that republic and offer mutual defense and trade agreements. It might not matter if the first lunar settlers were only four or so people of the first expedition or that they might not stay permanently. International law is somewhat vague on the matter, But it is a work around the Outer Space Treaty and would keep the moon out of the hands of grasping bureaucrats and corrupt politicians.
Readers are invited to discuss and try to poke holes in the comments section.