Law, Economics, and OpenData of Space

TL;DR — Today I Learned (TIL)…

  • Why asteroid mining is invaluable to all, not just space industrialist robber barons
  • Why regulating who is allowed to leave Earth is also not an immoral power-grab

After applying for Asgardian citizenship, I googled “asgardia egyptian eye” (because I’m always suspicious of ancient symbols that suggest involvement with satan-worship, the illuminati, or the Kardashians … I hope those weren’t all redundant) and found only one truly relevant result–Floating space nation Asgardia promises to guard Earth from asteroids by Cat DiStasio.


My hesitation was quickly overridden by my geekness.

DiStasio states the “eye of Horus” is “an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection, reinforcing Asgardia’s mission to protect Earth from asteroids and other threats.” I don’t recall seeing any mention of this mission on their site or in any of the other articles about Asgardia and I wonder what the “other threats” are to which he’s referring. It is, if you’ll forgive me, a Pandora’s box of conspiracies.

From there, I followed links to the Aerospace International Research Center (sponsoring org) and their magazine Room. The magazine’s site had an alleged ad for the Institute of Air and Space Law–I love me some air and space law as much as I love the Law of Superheroes, Physics of Superheroes and Physics of Star Trek. That link went to the wrong place so I had to google the institute which took me to their actual site which led me to their Twitter feed and a retweet to the real subject of this post, Why Do You Need Permission To Land On The Moon? by Jonathan O’Callaghan.

“It is wrong to say space belongs to no one,” Professor Ram Jakhu, Director of the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal, told IFLScience. “If you look at the law, it belongs to everybody … Private companies are not entitled to do anything without permission of their government.”

In this case, at least theoretically and optimistically, “their government” means representatives of all the people because space belongs to everybody. I love me some Clear and Concise.

This reminded me of a headline I skipped over recently questioning the legality of asteroid mining. I’d skipped over it because the libertarian voice in my head (there’s a libertarian voice and a socialist voice and, sometimes, they fight) was all like, “Of course it’s legal, why peeps be writin’ stupid shizzle?” (because that’s how libertarians talk) but another dark ceremony using the Google Board summoned The Biggest Barrier to Asteroid Mining Isn’t Technical, It’s Legal by William Herkewitz. I’ve always considered asteroid mining a pursuit made more by the likes of Weyland-Yutani (don’t neglect to check out the applicant and careers pages–you’re welcome) than Starfleet but asteroid mining is, as it turns out, directly related to the survival and success of space exploration efforts.

“The economic arguments for mining asteroids are overwhelming,” says Peter Marquez, the former director of space policy for President Obama and current vice president of Planetary Resources told Popular Mechanics in an interview. “On Earth we sit at the bottom of a gravity well, and it takes enormous energy and expense to pull anything out into space. About 10,000 dollars per pound to break free of Earth’s gravity. That’s 10,000 dollars for a can of Coke,” he says.

Asteroids, meanwhile, are rich with a variety of heavy resources any space mission might need, resources that aren’t burdened by so much pesky gravity. Bypassing the need to thrust all that equipment into space could drastically cut the cost of space missions. Take water for example.

“Humans need it to drink, we could use it for radiation shielding, and we could split water into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel,” Marquez points out. It’s a valuable but heavy resource, and one found in quantity if you just snag an asteroid. “One near-earth asteroid has enough water on it to have fueled all 135 space shuttle missions.”

And that is just the tip of the literal space-iceberg. “Asteroids are also rich with the right quantities of iron, cobalt, and nickel to make factory grade steel. And in space you could easily make some of heavy steel objects you need for space missions, like the dumb, heavy trusses that are all over the international space station,” Marquez says. “And keep in mind, you’d be making these things for significantly less than 10,000 dollars a pound.”

So, there you have it–I learned quite a lot by following my geekier instincts this morning!

Given NASA finally recognized the potential of willing nerds worldwide to contribute as demonstrated with open government efforts, not to mention SETI@home, resulting in an ongoing and increasing effort to release all data, enlisting civic-minded geeks and my imminent mastery of APIs and whatnot, I hope to be one of those volunteer geeks sooner than later. Geez … did that sentence even make sense? Anyway, here are some links for helping NASA like Justin Long in Galaxy Quest:


About jotascript

Aiming to please. Seeking to impress.
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