Trump’s scheme to sell the Moon


An airplane is silhouetted against the full Moon PHOTO/ Reuters

Executive order by US to mine the Moon shows how prevailing neoliberal ideas about ‘value’ trump the collective good.

When astronaut Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon in 1969, it was seen as an idealistic leap into the cosmos – a “giant leap for mankind”. 

Earlier this month, the real estate developer who improbably became US President legally declared that he sees the Moon in far less elevated terms. He signed an executive order authorising private, commercial uses of the Moon and other “off-Earth” “resources” like Mars and meteors.

Heavenly bodies are now seen as underleveraged assets meant to generate profits.

Invoking competitive threats from Russia and China, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has called on the government to support budding space businesses by rolling back regulations and coordinating government aid. He highlighted the gee-whiz possibilities of space tourism (a Trump Tower Moon, perhaps?) and the idea of converting solid ice on the dark side of the Moon into hydrogen and oxygen that could be used as a propellant for rockets bound for Mars.

It would amount to “turning the Moon into a kind of gas station for outer space”, Ross said.

The Trump administration is also exploring the feasibility of “the large-scale economic development of space”, including “private lunar landers staking out de facto ‘property rights’ for Americans on the Moon, by 2020”, as well as the right to mine asteroids for precious metals.

If it all sounds like the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, said Ross with evident self-congratulation, well, that vision “is coming closer to reality sooner than you may have ever thought possible”.

Since Donald Trump’s career has been built on claims of “truthful hyperbole”, sceptics might reasonably see this space fantasy as the empty bravado of the Huckster-in-Chief. Still, we need to ask a fundamental question: Who owns the Moon, anyway?

Economists and politicians are accustomed to referring to space, the oceans, the atmosphere, genetic knowledge and other planetary systems as “global commons”. The ostensible point is to suggest that these things belong to everyone and should be managed for collective benefit. And in fact, nations have crafted a handful of treaties that purport to create cooperative governance to preserve and protect various natural systems.

Believing that Antarctica should remain unowned and non-militarised, seven countries with plausible territorial claims to the continent ratified a treaty in 1959 to establish a scientific research commons there.

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