3:10 to Luna

Monday, 19 November 2007 — 5:55pm | Science

Last Wednesday, I delivered a brief talk for the U of A Debate Society about policy issues in outer space. It was arguably out of my depth, but don’t tell anybody. I did, at one point, assert something that I didn’t have time to defend: that the Outer Space Treaty’s prohibition on sovereign claims in space precludes the protection of property rights (and that the major oversight of the space treaties of the 1960s, in general, was a failure to predict that non-state actors might one day play a significant role beyond our blue marble).

For a more lucid explanation than what I can offer, I recommend Jonathan Card’s article in today’s edition of The Space Review (“Space property rights and the 3:10 to Yuma”):

I’m a very simple man, and here’s my simple understanding of property law: say I’m a solar-farmer on the moon, just selling my electrical output to them city-folk across the ridge at the spaceport. Pirates, who’ve mutinied against the captain of their spaceship, land on my farm, kill my sons, rape my daughters, and take over my collector to recharge their batteries, becoming their new illicit base to spread their range of plundering and villainy. Who shoots them? If it’s the government, then I have property rights; if it’s me, then I might as well fly my own flag and call my 40 acres “Cardopolis”, a petty king of a petty city-state; if it’s nobody, this scenario will surely come to pass. Every advance in transportation has led to equivalent advances in piracy and I don’t expect space travel to be much different.

In essence, what Card argues is that the protection of any permanent private settlement is going to necessitate sovereign law enforcement de facto, if not de jure. Considering the tremendous influence piracy had on the economic affairs of the rising European empires (yes, I’ve been reading Niall Ferguson’s Empire and Peter Earle’s The Pirate Wars), I think the claim has some basis in history. The appeal of Card’s article, however, is its basis in the Hollywood western.

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2 rejoinders to “3:10 to Luna”

  1. Maybe it should be the UN, or someother type of international body, that should take responsibility of the security of space.

    Not the UN that we have today, but one that is a true democracy, and maybe the security of space would be the thing that everyone has an equally vested interest in.

    Monday, 7 January 2008 at 3:58pm

  2. I think the OST is a good foundation on which good things can be layered. What OST establishes is that outer space is common ground, which does not mean that people can’t privatize bits of it or set up governments over it by consent of the governed. It does mean that (a) no existing government can preempt this process; (b) at least on my reading, it cannot be reduced to allodial property, but remains a lease from sovereign humankind.

    Saturday, 20 December 2008 at 2:03pm

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