Skip to comments.5 Big Questions Over SpaceX Declaring Martian Independence
Posted on 10/31/2020 10:24:49 AM PDT by Kaslin
From communists on Mars to 'The Expanse' in real life, the questions about the future of Musk's Mars are huge. Here's what you need to know.
Martian 1776 has arrived, according to SpaceX. In a set of recently released documents, the company announced it has no intention of following laws from any government on Earth once it reaches Mars.
For services provided on Mars, or in transit to Mars via Starship or other colonization spacecraft, the parties recognize Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities, the document reads, which was included in the Terms of Service of its ambitious Starlink project. Accordingly, disputes will be settled through self-governing principles, established in good faith, at the time of Martian settlement.”
If this all sounds a little preemptive, that’s because it is. This particular document was almost certainly put out to gain attention for the company’s (and Musk’s) dream of creating a “The Expanse”-style self-sustaining Mars. And SpaceX is yet to deliver a single spacecraft to the Red Planet, forget a functioning colony.
That being said: Preemptive as Musk’s Martian Declaration might be, the idea opens a Pandora’s Box of unanswered questions about the ownership of the solar system. The topics range from the potential for interplanetary empires, the question of Martian patriots, and the risk of communists in space — and all of them merit a good look. Here are just five of them.
NASA will almost certainly be the first government space agency to reach Mars. It will arrive around 15 years after SpaceX does.
Elons company has its Mars rocket, the Starship, prepared to be operating in 2021, launching cargo missions to Mars by 2024, and sending a manned mission in 2026. Even if the company is knocked a catastrophic 10 years behind schedule, it’ll still beat all other national space agencies to Mars handily, according to the government’s own estimates, which place a likely landing sometime in the 2040s.
The question, then, becomes what private industry will do with this head start.
While any colony would be reliant on supplies and support from back on Earth for a long time, whoever arrives first would get to create their own “facts on the ground.” Governments hoping to do work on the planet will be placed in a position of dependence. Every aspect of their projects would be shaped by the company’s choices, from transportation to colony rules. And if the company is promoting ideas of home rule to its workers (who will likely make up most of the colonys population) and the world, it could push the colony in a definitively pro-independence direction, at least in the long term.
If Elon Musk wanted to take his rockets to Mars, establish a city, and declare it an independent nation, it would be completely legal. Right now, space exploration is governed by a loose handful of international agreements setting up basic rules on how countries should act in space. And these basic rules say nothing about how land and resources on the other planets can be used. They also completely fail to cover what private companies can and cannot do outside the Blue Dot.
Space law has barely been updated in the last 40 years, while everything in the space industry has changed. It took global fixation and ten years of negotiations for the United Nations to agree on a bare outline of an agreement regarding the moon in the 1970s; there’s every reason to think that Mars is still going to be the Wild West when Musk arrives.
There are many reasons, however, to think that the United States is not going to let its Martian investments ride solo.
While SpaceX is a private company through and through, its current business model is dependent on government contracts and cash. Worthwhile as this investment may have been, this support sure isnt going to be forgotten once Mars is reached. And theres no reason to think the United States is going to hand off its say in the future of interplanetary settlements to a republic of a few hundred colonists, as Musk envisions.
The question is how these two interests — an independence-minded billionaire and his colony, and a country whose interests lay solidly in the non-independence camp — will play out will be a critical question of the 21st century.
The United States might follow the East India Company model, letting private industry fuel expansion, until it grows large enough that it merits American territorial status. It might also declare strict control of the Mars missions from the beginning, relegating Musks dreams of independence to a distant future. As dependent as the company is on American funding, theres not much SpaceX could actually do to stop it. In either case, bid welcome to our 51st state.
Alternatively, the United States also could wait too long. If the colony is well enough entrenched, and independence-minded from the causes above, actually preventing a declaration of self-government could be hard to stop. In that case, we could end up seeing a Martian Congressional Republic in the Expanse flavor.
All of these outcomes, of course, are only taking the United States into consideration.
And the United States, sadly, is not the only world power with a say on the future of mankind. Some, namely Europe and other Western-allied states, may become enthusiastic about the idea of private scientific colonies on Mars. China, with its dreams of world power status, will not be one of them.
The regime can be fully expected to recognize the advantages an American-dominated outer space would bring in the long term and fight this tooth and nail. We can expect over the next 30 years to see competing Chinese enterprises trying to close this strategic gap at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party.
If this fails, China may use its considerable sway over the United Nations and other international bodies to try and force an internationalization of Americas Martian colonies. This could happen regardless of whether they are private or government. Whether the United States goes along with this will depend much on the administration in office.
Whoever controls Mars — be it America, China, the UN, or Musk — will hold an extraordinary say over the future of outer space. History has no shortage of examples showing that timing matters.
Whoever develops the technology needed to create a settlement on Mars is most likely to create a network of human colonies across the solar system. And whoever works this out will, more likely than not, be the first to bring the unimaginable wealth of the neighborhood’s natural resources home, and decide what happens to it.
What is a scientific curiosity and a comical tab in a terms of service agreement today will ultimately determine our future, both as a country and a species. There is a huge future ahead of us. And it helps, especially now of all times, to keep that in mind.
So SpaceX has declared Martian independence. Well, thats nice. Paraphrasing Stalin, how many divisions has SpaceX?
a short story i wrote a few years ago coming to life - earth laws have no bearing on other planets
Statehood for Mars! And the Moon!
I’m willing to go.
Statehood for Mars! And the Moon!
I’m willing to go.
Mars is like north america a few hundred years ago. It’s anyone’s for the taking. Same with the moon. It is a frontier. You get what you can take and keep.
Durn, there goes so very many SF novels from the past 70+ years! From Heinlein’s “Red Planet” of 1949, at least, on, the theme has been timeless. Mars as Britains 13 American Colonies and Earth as King George & Lord North!
It of course turned out the Pope had many more divisions than the Soviet Union. But Musk--maybe no so much.
No earthly sovereignty on Mars unless instituted by those with the Manifest Destiny to colonize it. My guess the first things to go to Mars will be research equipment and gear to begin rudimentary camps. Then weapons. Then equipment to try to create conditions to grow food, find water, and research on ideas to improve atmospheric conditions for mammalian life to live outside closed camps. Then, attempts to launch from Mars to the Asteroid Belt to capture and bring asteroids into Mars or Earth Orbit to mine for resources, or, it might be cheaper to send automated mining equipment to dig into asteroids in the asteroid belt itself and simply shoot them back to Mars or to Earth to splash in the ocean where they can be retrieved by earthlings. Imagine just one of the old astronaut capsules filled with gold or other rare earth minerals.
I can imagine thousands of little jetpack robots that will drill themselves into an asteroid.
Not really their space craft have to launch from a country and their supplies will come from various countries. It would not be hard to cut off the luanch sites or supplies. At the end of the day they will be at the mercy of the powers that be.
That’s all cool but who’s going enforce their Martian law or whatever?
It’s a declaration saying anyone can come kill us all on Mars and take over all our stuff.
Thats fine with me. I wonder what the Martians would think? I also wonder where they go through customs on the way back.
As a practical matter, the U.S. Space Force and its Russian and Chinese counterparts will have something to say. Furthermore, Space X still is based on Earth. It will be a couple of generations before a completely non-terrestrial supply chain can be developed.
I can tell you that forward thinkers in the U.S. national security space enterprise are already thinking about the importance of controlling the La Grange points in the Earth-Moon region. I have been wondering for a couple of years how corporations like Space X will protect themselves from space pirates.
The article gave me some nostalgia about the old Polesotechnic League stories of Poul Anderson or maybe some Heinlein stories.
SpaceX’s declaration is just flatulance.
The decision on Mars will be made decades or centuries from now when different groups of Martian settlers will determine the question, peacefully or otherwise.
I have a great deal of vacation land on Europa that I am willing to sell at a huge discount. Ill offer it to Musk, but will negotiate with anyone who wants a small slice of Heaven.
What a joke. Who was it said that it’s all about getting there firstest with the mostest?
President Harris will nationalize the company, then sell the assets to China. No one escapes her power. Period.
Since NASA, if it still exists, will not get there for 15 years at the earliest - how many divisions is a mute point
We need to Make Mars Great Again!
I worry that we will be committing physical and cultural genocide against the Martians. We will take their indigenous culture and replace it with McDonald’s fly-throughs.
Will we never learn?!?!?
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