What does Trump’s executive order on resources mean for Space Force?
On April 6, President Trump signed an executive order entitled Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources. In addition to making manned mission(s) to the Moon and Mars priority, the executive order in the medium-term envisioned more private/public partnership in future space missions, reading in part:
“Successful long-term exploration and scientific discovery of the Moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies will require partnership with commercial entities to recover and use resources, including water and certain minerals, in outer space…”
The document leverages the 1967 “Outer Space Treaty” heavily and uses the treaty as argument against certain principle in the 1979 “Moon Agreement.” The former has been ratified by some 80 nations, whereas the latter has garnered just 17 signatories.
The Outer Space Treaty essentially states that no nation or entity can own the moon, nor shall any sort of WMD be deployed in space or on the moon.
For the Trump Administration, the disagreeable part of the 1979 Moon Agreement is the notion that “the Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind.” Trump’s executive order indicates that water and mineral resources can in fact be mined by private entities with the full backing of the US government: “Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view space as a global commons.”
For the Space Force in the short term, the aggressive tone of the document is certainly good news. NASA’s Artemis program ambitiously seeks to land Americans on the Moon in 2024 and to establish a permanent base by four years later. This order shows that the current administration is still thinking spaceward, a rare scientific-leaning decision: After all, pandemic or no pandemic, the heavenly bodies still move about and launch windows do not change based on human conditions.
On the dark side of the spectrum, however, the order has an insidiously libertarian tone, as though the Space Force would be called upon to ask as private security and personal police escorts to private enterprise. (SpaceX Force, anyone?) Deploying the most advanced space-side technology in defense of a handful of zillionaires is hardly an excellent use of military resources.
Speculation in either direction may by useless, though: After all, from this point in the pandemic, April 6, 2020, feels like a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away. Though NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine ordered a majority of his workforce home in mid-March, the space agency claims plans for Moon missions are right on schedule, as is the development of the Space Force. Things may be well different by the time Americans are walking on the Moon again, but there’s little reason to suspect the next president would overturn or rollback forward motion on either spacefaring venture.
Let’s just hope this executive order and near-future plans set us more in the direction of Star Trek and less toward, say, Edge of Tomorrow.