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Who owns Mars?

Did you hear that China intends to land on the Moon and to have a base there by 2020? That’s only 4 years’ time. Your freshman kids won’t even have finished college by then…..

And of course, SpaceX intends to have a settlement on Mars by 2024. Maybe the explosion of its rocket recently will put a dampener on that, but personally I doubt it. I think Elon Musk has the chops to keep the plan on course, no matter what.

Not to be outdone, Russia plans to get to Mars by 2030. So it’s in the running for the Red Planet too. India also has plans to land on Mars, maybe with France’s help.

So the race is on. Expect others to join the jousting soon. Likely Japan. How about North Korea, God forbid.

Mars isn’t the only target either. The Moon and Mars are the low-hanging fruit, so to speak. But interest is growing in exploring Titan. NASA is playing around with an idea to explore Titan’s oceans by submarine. Europa and Ganymede are also attracting more interest, although not at this stage for settlement.

But the planetary settlement meme is now well in play; humans are now committed to settling at least the Moon and Mars. Soon.

Now we are going to be faced with a lot of tiresome details. Can I sell my Mars property back to Elon Musk if the settlement fails? What kind of money will we use there? Will citizenship of Mars or the Moon be granted? Under what conditions? So soon the lawyers are going to get involved.

Problem is, what is the basis for space law? As you are probably aware, there is a basis. It’s the 5 treaties drafted by the UN by the Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

The problem is that most of the treaties haven’t been signed by most nations. The leading space nations have signed just about nothing of real substance.

At the moment there’s a gentleman’s agreement between the big nations not to use the planets for military purposes and to play nice in space. But you wouldn’t have to be a cynic to think that such an arrangement is not going to outlast the establishment of a colony that has the ability to spy on the Earthly pursuits of its nation-competitors and to take military action in particular circumstances.

And probably the only reason that the big powers haven’t taken action for a formal planet-settlement program is that they felt that it wasn’t technologically possible. With SpaceX and Blue Origin all that has changed.

In the past year it’s become crystal clear that it’s not only possible to settle the Moon and Mars, it's going to happen, at least in some shape or form. And it won’t be long before that happens.

Nor is it just going to be a result of military-only thinking. The civilians are taking the lead right now. But expect confidently that to change soon. Sure there will be civilians there, but protected by their nation’s military. Just like it’s always been in the game of colonization; poachers first, followed by the gamekeepers.

What we should expect at the least is a land grab, just like the Portuguese and the Spanish were doing in the 15th century, the European powers in the 18th and 19th centuries and the Americans in the 20th. It’s going to have all the usually players and roles; explorers, privateers, soldiers, colonists, farmers, miners, nation-builders, politicians, and of course, financiers and lawyers.

What happens when the US, China, India, Japan, The Eurozone and yes, maybe North Korea have established their settlements and they become cities, say 30 years out? Let say each is around 100 square miles with 300,000 people.

Each city has other additional reserved areas for recreation, garbage disposal, solar arrays, industrial zones, mining, farming and so on. So maybe each has an area of several thousand square miles. Each is expanding rapidly as new industries are established. There’s going to be a need for the cities to form a supra-city form of government. Will everyone play nice?

Don’t laugh: it’s closer than you think.

So back to the topic of this blog post: who owns Mars? It’s obvious that, at this stage no-one knows. Probably the basic principle is going to be that the owners will be the people who got their first, with the most military power. That is, de facto, and much later perhaps, de jure.

So we can look forward to some scintillating, sometimes super-powered (pun intended) discussions on the planetary ownership question. After all, this land grab is probably going to dwarf those in the past on Earth. Instead of talking countries, we’re talking whole planets. That’s going to give everyone enough to talk, and fight, about.

Recently I was talking to a young friend who is in the middle of a law degree. I told her that she should take space law as a major. Problem in there are only a couple of such programs in the US.

But we can confidently expect many more. Just as space is a growth area, so too will space law. So for those kids of yours, who are going to be studying while the first planets are being settled, advise them to go the space route too.

My prediction: the hot subjects at school are going to be related to space. Bye bye computer science and environmental studies. As to the first it will be done by AI. The second won’t be needed as we have permanently destroyed the Earth’s environment so we don’t need anyone to try to restore it.

Now the rush is on to figure out how to do it on the Moon and Mars too.


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