The discovery of water will make it possible to set up a colony on the Moon. But will there be a repeat of the East India Company?
The Moon has never had it so good. Looked at longingly by both lovers and werewolves for centuries and composed of the stuff which lends wings to poetry, today the Moon is full of a precious resource which is attracting the attention of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ( nasa) in the us, scientists, real estate corporations and international lawyers. For there is water on the Moon.
There is going to be a giant leap in the demand for a share of the lunar pie, a leap that will make Neil Armstrong's small step forward appear miniscule in comparison and make the gold rush, 200 years ago in the Wild West, pale into insignificance. The only thing the Moon has in common with the Wild West is that there is no law on the Moon, earlier it was dry, now it promises to be wet and wild.
There is a reason for this sudden lunacy in the rank and file. A lunar base has suddenly become cheap as the cost of transporting water from Earth, which made the cost prohibitive is no longer part of the project cost. The idea of shipping buckets of water in spaceships to the Moon was always a damper on efforts to set up a Moon base.
Arthur C Clarke was there before nasa . In his Moon base young second generation teenagers were six-feet-tall, forever banished by gravity from the Earth, millionaires could extend their lives and even give respite to weak hearts by merely relocating from the Earth. It was possible to run businesses on Earth from up there as there was only a second's gap in telephonic conversation between the Earth and the Moon.
The Moon is vital for further space exploration also. A spaceship will require one sixth the thrust it needs to break free of orbit than it would from the Earth making it possible to have a larger ship capable of a longer voyage. Assuming that there is no such thing as a faster than light space drive and Newton's third law holds, interstellar space travel for example would require spaceships to be mini-colonies, with self sustaining ecosystems. These would have to be capable of supporting human populations for generations. Such spaceships would necessarily have to be large.
But all this is going to take place in the future. It is the present which is daunting. There is money to be made in lunar deals and international lawyers stand to make megabucks in the process. The absence of a proper international agreement on the Moon makes this possible.
In 1967 all the nations in the world signed the outer space treaty. Under the auspices of this treaty they are all subject to an international space law which loosely spells out that the Moon is the common property of humankind. One would assume that this should put at rest all speculation about private organisations exploiting the mineral wealth of the Moon for their benefit. Unfortunately international lawyers feel that in its present condition the document lacks the teeth to check a rabid attack on the Moon. In fact the un is aware that the terms of the treaty are so vague that an attempt was made to come up with an international Moon agreement in 1979.
The aim of this attempt was to bring the Moon under similar rules which govern the Earth's oceans. For example no country is permitted to mine the ocean floor or establish mineral rights in international waters. However, only a few countries initialled the treaty and it failed to become a law. Notable among those which abstained were the us and the political entity formerly known as the Soviet Union.
In the us Congress the Moon pact was killed by a group of persons known as l-5 , members of a society which firmly believes that the future of human civilisation is inextricably linked with space exploration and setting up of human colonies in outer space. The society also believes that colonisers should be permitted to establish property rights over lunar mineral wealth. But there is a method behind the lunacy.
Members of l-5 take inspiration from the lessons of history. The amazing success of the East India Company and consequent European colonisation of Asia and Africa was possible because colonisers were able to exercise property rights and exploit the natural wealth of the areas they took over.
Therefore the failure of a Moon pact leaves the way open for the commercial exploitation of lunar mineral wealth. Business houses are already dreaming up business deals. America's Luna Corporation is already chalking out the viability of commercial trips to the Moon.
If the Moon is to be saved for both weak hearts wishing to relocate, or for nations lacking the heart or the technology to set out and conquer it before their more prosperous neighbours do so, then a pact on the Moon is of vital importance. The Moon like the atmosphere and the water is part of the environment and most definitely the common property of humankind. A strong set of laws is therefore needed to protect it for every human being.
What is needed also is the will to push those laws into place. Indeed, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth... but not the Moon.
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