Yes, you read that correctly: the US Senate has passed a bill legalizing the mining of celestial bodies by private corporate entities. You might be asking yourself, "but wait a minute, don't you have to have a claim on a territory in order to legislate for it?" and the answer - at least, the last time I checked human legal traditions - is "yes." But that's exactly what the US senate just did, according to this article shared by Ms. S.H.:
The article itself implies these legal problematics, and indeed, we've mentioned this problem in other blogs on this website with respect to space mining and any attempts to legalize it by the US Congress:
At the moment it's not clear whether space mining is legal. Although there's nothing expressly forbidding asteroid mining by private companies, the Outer Space Treaty declares that no nation can own property in space. The wording of the treaty is vague enough that companies want to ensure they'll own the resources they mine from asteroids before investing millions or billions of dollars trying to extract them.
The bill would make those property rights official, at least under U.S. law. Although companies can't own the asteroids themselves, the current version reads:
“A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States."
An earlier version passed in the House in May. Since then, the Senate amended it with a few interesting changes. For one, by adding the word "abiotic" to the definition of "space resources," they specify that living things are not considered a resource.
What all this dancing around Harvey's Barn is really about is that fundamental question: does the US congress, or any other terrestrial body, have jurisdiction over celestial bodies to the extent that it can pass laws pertaining to them? Well, as always in law, course of performance is often a determining factor, for if enough companies and/or countries go along with the idea (such as passing their own laws concerning such celestial bodies), then at least the principle is established, provided they are not contested from here (or, for that matter, elsewhere.).
But might there be other layers operating here? I suspect this to be the case, and here's my "high octane speculative argument" as to why this may be so. By passing laws over things over which it has no legal jurisdiction(yet), the possibility is open to asserting that jurisdiction by claim staking, literally, by "planting the flag" on unknown territories of the "new worlds in space," in a manner similar to the European claim staking in the New World during the age of exploration. Then, of course, the matter was literally one of getting there (1) first and (2) with "the most" in order to back up and defend claims against counter-claimants (and natives). Now imagine, if you will, the age of exploration, if one of the major contenders, Spain or France, let us say, had access to technologies decades if not centuries in advance of their competition, access for example to steam powered ships, rather than the canvas and sail caravels which began the age of exploration. That nation would be at an extreme advantage over its competitors.
Something like this, I suspect, may be in play here, for if one's competiitors are all using chemical rockets, and you have - let us say - perfected ion propulsion or microwave soliton effects or "electro-gravitics," you would have an extreme advantage in the race to commercialize space, and moreover, would have a technology to back up a unipolar assertion of legal jurisdiction... You would, in effect, be sailing on steamships while your competitors were left in their caravels.
Of course, careful examination of this high octane speculation exposes its fundamental problem, for it is a circular argument of sorts. But the alternative, namely, that there is absolutely no such technology, even in rudimentary form, raises its own thorny implications, not the least of which is that the US Congress, without much to back up its unipolarism, is asserting the right to legislate over territories not even falling under US jurisdiction... and that's a whole new dimension to the unipolarism we've seen in recent years that leaves one not only breathless, but wondering if there is any shred of sanity left in the American body politic. Of course, it could be argued that the legislation concerns not the celestial bodies themselves, but rather American corporations intent upon mining them, and hence no claim is being made to the bodies themselves. But ssuch casuistry I suspect won't stand up unnder careful scrutiny, and thus the problematic posed by the act of such legislation is not avoided.
So we're left impaled upon the horns of a dilemma: either they're simply drinking their own Koolaid and believing their own propaganda in Washington, or there may be something hidden that is giving them the confidence to go ahead with the legislation. My intuition says it's the latter.
See you on the fflip side...