Thursday, 4 August 2016

free-return trajectory

An internet giant and associates intend to land an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon before the end of 2017, we learn via Kottke, after overcoming the administrative embargos established under the terms governing the parties of the Outer Space Treaty, which provides that no government can claim ownership of any celestial body, nor can weaponise space and is responsible for commercial spacecraft launched under their jurisdiction—no matter how close or loose that association is, what with multinational entities beholden to no state.  The treaty was installed shortly after the US government seeded the upper atmosphere with tens of thousands of microscopic needles at the height of the Cold War as a contingency for maintaining global communications in case the Soviets cut the undersea cables spanning the Atlantic.
Incidentally, the first private, commercial mission to the Moon was a fly-by and fourteen day Earth orbit executed by a German ærospace company in October of 2014 (EN/DE), memorialising its founder who had recently departed, but entailed no actual touch-down or permanent presence and this upcoming enterprise will be a first. In addition to being liable for the craft that take-off under their auspices, space-faring nations also retain ownership of the artifacts that they leave behind, space-junk, equipment, rovers and flags but can stake no claim—despite America’s push to have Tranquility Base protected as a national historic monument. I wonder how the Outer Space Treaty applies to wholly private activities—like asteroid mining, whose mere spectre should have already stopped the gold speculators, or space tourism. While we have to have confidence that governments with the urge to explore and not exploit, will only vet businesses of a like character, on the other hand, one has to wonder about burdening entrepreneurs with an insufficient regulatory framework and disincentives when private innovations may be a far greater boon to all of humanity than anything government can produce. What do you think? Not only do I not want to see tatty resorts crowding up the lunar surface, who’s to say that one could brand hollowed-out planetoids (or at least overlay them with advertising in a virtual augmented reality) or net a comet and remove it from the skies forever?  I think the potential amazing advances will carry the day and prevail, however, in the end.