Space Cowboys

The Earth seen from our moon. This might be close enough, but it’ll be hard to enforce laws on Mars. It could be another wild west. Photo: NASA via Wikimedia Commons

I wrote about a possible cold war in space a couple of years ago. This is a real possibility because no one has concidered the tiger. That was an image I used in Tiger Riding Norwegian Style. I referred to a Chinese proverb saying it’s hard to get off the tiger’s back without being eaten. It means that you need to solve a situation now or get stuck with a dilemma later that you can’t get out of.

It would be somewhat distorted to say that there is only peace and tolerance among nations on Earth, for example between the randomly selected governments of Israel and Iran, Turkey and Greece, or USA and Russia, Syria and China. The Outer Space Treaty from 1967 is supposed to ensure peace in space, which is a relative large territory. The treaty stipulates that no state can claim any territory in space, including the Moon. Nuclear energy is also prohibited in space.

The USA passed a law last year that opens up for private US companies to mine in space. There are also companies developing the technology needed to settle Mars. SpaceX is one of them, and if they succeed in establishing a permanent base, they can do whatever they want as long as they respect The Outer Space Treaty. The best comparison is probably international waters on our own planet. No one owns it, but the law from the the country where the ship is registered applies on board. SpaceX is American, which would bring US law to this base on Mars, if it is ever built.

This could get messy. The most active countries in space are USA, Russia, China, Canada, Japan, India, Germany and Great Britain. These countries are not only willing to defend their government’s interests on foreign soil, but also that of private businesses. A conflict between private businesses could easily develop into a conflict betweeen states, which may be what we are seeing in Syria. It’s interesting that science fiction-authors have warned against this at least since the 1950’s, and we are now approaching the time when we will have the technology that makes it possible.

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