For millennia, mankind has had one dream, one desire, one singular unifying purpose: to take its rightful place among the stars by destroying the fucking Moon. On Monday, Donald Trump advanced that goal by signing an executive order telling the world that the U.S. won’t let any other countries interfere with our Moon-ravaging operations.
In between threatening to defund the World Health Organization during a global pandemic and insisting that voting by mail is “corrupt,” Trump found the time to sign an executive order this week asserting that space is not a “global commons” and that the U.S. and private companies have the right to exploit any and all resources found there, including on the lunar surface. The order notes that the U.S. “has neither signed nor ratified the Moon Agreement,” an international treaty intended to equitably distribute lunar resources, and among other things prevent territorial claims on the Moon’s surface, military use of celestial bodies, and biological and industrial contamination of other worlds. Trump’s order reiterates the official U.S. government position that it and any other government or private entity can shake down our closest astronomical body for all it’s worth under the separate Outer Space Treaty:
Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law. Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view it as a global commons. Accordingly, it shall be the policy of the United States to encourage international support for the public and private recovery and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law.
The order also says the U.S. will object to any attempt to prevent it from mining the Moon using international law and encourage other countries to adopt the same understanding.
Note that it is unclear whether the Moon does, in fact, have resources worth the cost of extracting in the foreseeable future. Per Space.com, it is believed to have large quantities of helium-3 of possible use in fusion reactors, though it is finite and the total amount is unclear. It also has water, which would be worthless to bring back to Earth but would be very valuable in setting up long-term human habitation. Beyond that, it may have rare earth elements like uranium or thorium and metallic crashed asteroids full of platinum-group elements. Per Popular Science, 20 percent of lunar regolith is silicon, up to eight percent is titanium, and 10 to 18 percent is aluminum; there are also notable quantities of iron.
The European Space Agency, not just NASA, has expressed great interest in Moon mining. But the costs of mining these materials and returning them to Earth is purely speculative; it would be of far greater use enabling lunar industry. NASA plans to start building a base camp on the Moon’s south pole sometime after 2024 as a jumping point to a Mars mission in the 2030s, where astronauts will test the feasibility of lunar resource extraction. But the timeline for that (let alone for major lunar industry) is pretty hazy, and plans for moon colonization have repeatedly been proposed for decades.
According to CNBC, the U.S. says that its view of the Moon as a free-for-all is viewed favorably by Canada, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, and China.