Astronomy: Prospect of Lunar Mining Raises Questions of Space Resource Management

Lunar mining falls into gray area of international law, but talks are underway to avoid conflict

By Michelle Hanlon

It’s been 50 years since humans last visited the Moon, and even robotic missions have been few and far between. But the Earth’s only natural satellite is about to get crowded.

At least six countries and a flurry of private companies have publicly announced more than 250 missions to the Moon to occur within the next decade. Many of these missions include plans for permanent lunar bases and are motivated in large part by ambitions to assess and begin utilizing the Moon’s natural resources. In the short term, resources would be used to support lunar missions, but in the long term, the Moon and its resources will be a critical gateway for missions to the broader riches of the solar system.

But these lofty ambitions collide with a looming legal question. On Earth, possession and ownership of natural resources are based on territorial sovereignty. Conversely, Article II of the Outer Space Treaty – the 60-year-old agreement that guides human activity in space – forbids nations from claiming territory in space. This limitation includes the Moon, planets and asteroids. So how will space resources be managed?

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