Over four decades have passed since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon. But since then, NASA’s space ventures have proved disappointing. No one has walked on the moon since 1971. And the overall focus has shifted from manned missions and space colonization to unmanned missions and hyper-specialized research projects. So, when will mankind begin space colonization?
When will Mankind begin Space Colonization?
A few days ago, Rand Simberg from the Competitive Enterprise Institute issued an interesting white paper on the matter, entitled Homesteading the Final Frontier. In it, he suggests there is a rather simple way to encourage space exploration and ultimately, settlement…property rights.
“At the heart of the prosperity of the West lie clear and recognized freely transferrable property rights, protected under the rule of law. Absent legally recognized rights to buy, own, and sell titled property, it is difficult, if not impossible, to get a loan to purchase said property, improve it, mine it, drill for minerals on it, or sell the proceeds from any of those activities. Property rights are a sine qua non of wealth creation and a reason why America and other Western nations are rich and others are poor. Moreover, they lie at the heart of liberty. Their current absence off planet partially explains why we have not developed the next and, in a sense, last frontier—space.” ~ Rand Simberg
Simberg has a point. Space colonization would be ultra-expensive. And without property rights, there’s no benefit to doing so. However, if people were allowed to own space-based property and enjoy commercial benefits from it, whether they be tourism, mining, or something else, there would be far greater interest in space colonization. Markets would form, inventors would create new technologies. The cost of space colonization would decline.
The Current Status of Space Colonization?
Currently, the 1979 Moon Treaty outlaws private property claims in space. The U.S. never signed that treaty. However, it is a signatory to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. That particular treaty, while it appears to outlaw space-based private property, is open to interpretation. According to Simberg, the U.S. government could use it to auction off land in space.
That’s the legal argument. There’s also a preservation vs. development argument that needs to be made. One of the most common arguments against space colonization is that space should be completely preserved from human interference.
“Some of the problem arises from a false conception of space as scientific preserve, rather than as a new venue for human expansion. Under the former view, the universe is a fragile jewel to be observed and studied, but minimally explored, if at all, by humans.” ~ Rand Simberg
It’s similar to “preservation” arguments made in other fields of study. Some climate scientists and ecologists wish to preserve nature in situ (sometimes ignoring the fact that nature changes itself, often quite drastically). Social scientists want to preserve current population levels by managing growth. Malthusianists want to reduce resource consumption. Archaeologists are increasingly turning to remote sensing, ground penetrating radar, and other tools in order to completely avoid excavations. They want valuable and interesting artifacts left untouched and underground, presumably forever. These are strange, almost anti-human developments led by technocrats and guided by the odd hope that nothing ever changes.
“We have all the physical tools we need to build a better future. But the vision of the future itself is missing. We have returned to the mental condition of the Roman Empire; there is no future, only an unchanging, infinite Present. Hitler had the same static viewpoint; he called it the “Eternal Return” and symbolized it by the Swastika.” ~ Bill Walker, Take Back the Future
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
We here at Guerrilla Explorer love the idea of space colonization. It’s way past time humanity expanded its reach past this little rock we call Earth. But while Simberg’s proposal is interesting, it depends heavily on the whims of politicians and bureaucrats. And that’s problematic. After all, these same people bear much of the responsibility for the rather disappointing state of space exploration. As long as existing governments are perceived to own the rights to everything outside Earth’s atmosphere…indeed, the entire universe…space colonization will likely remain a slow, painful process.
On the other hand, a pure market approach, based on the Homestead Principle, could bear fruit. In other words, no one owns anything in space. However, each of us owns our own labor. So, if a person (or corporation) ventures to the moon or to part of another planet and mixes his or her labor with the land, well, that’s ownership.