New article: I don't want to live on the Moon
You were expecting a Gil Scott-Heron reference?
Space is exciting! But it’s also boring. As the U.S. prepares to go back to the Moon (yes, that’s really a thing that’s happening), there’s a lot of overheated claims about how space will affect life—and politics—here on Earth.
For Foreign Policy, I deconstruct some of the mystique of space exploitation and offer some thoughts about how to keep space exploration from being stopped by great-power competition:
As the number of governments and private actors invested in space grows, space will need more, rather than less, regulation. Those developments means that the United States may find itself facing many more legal hurdles than it ever did during the moonshot era.
As the world’s leading power, the United States has always been conflicted between its desires to shape international law by participating in it and the temptation to just reject it. Moonshot thinking risks shifting the balance toward the latter. Recent attempts to impose U.S. preferences in space unilaterally or through coalitions of the willing, as with the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act and the Artemis Accords, could portend a future administration from unraveling multilateral cooperation. That, in turn, could lead other space powers—including China and Russia—to try to limit or even sabotage U.S.-led regimes.
These are not just abstract questions of preserving cooperation for cooperation’s sake. Whether asteroids—or the moon or Mars—can be mined turn to legal questions like these. More immediately, activity in space, unlike that on Earth or in the oceans, takes place in an unforgiving environment where little customary law can be easily extended to resolve problems. The actions of one country can have major repercussions, as with China’s test of an anti-satellite weapon in 2007, a single event that, according to the European Space Agency, “increased the trackable space object population by 25%.” At the extreme, such events might close off access to space, although it’s likelier that leaving this problem unchecked will simply make activities in space much more risky and costly.