Last week, it was reported that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and others are investing in a new company called “Planetary Resources” that wants to mine asteroids.The company’s founder, Peter Diamandis, has apparently been dreaming of mining asteroids since he was a kid. Like others, he thinks the resources in space will create the world’s first trillionaire.
But, engineering challenges aside, how exactly can you mine asteroids?
Specifically, what gives you the right to mine asteroids?
Doesn’t somebody own asteroids? Wouldn’t you have to acquire the mining rights from someone?
According to a panel I attended last winter at the DLD conference in Munich, the answer is no.
Legal scholars apparently disagree about how laws pertaining to ownership apply to space, but the prevailing view is apparently this:
If you go plant a flag on an asteroid before anyone else does, it’s yours.
So asteroid mining, at least in the early years, may be all about getting there first and planting flags.
Of course, as soon as Planetary Resources holds its big press conference this week, countries and lawyers the world around will probably begin gearing up for a big legal fight over who owns space.
And that will be amusing to watch.
Photo: Jaideep Khemani on Flickr
Because the concept that any tiny life-form or group of life forms on one tiny planet in one tiny corner of the universe can “own” the universe is so ridiculous and arrogant that it’s basically farce.But don’t forget that there’s precedent for the flag-planting theory.
When Europeans started sailing ships around the globe ~500 years ago and “discovering” land, no one “owned” any lands they encountered (least of all, in their view, the people who lived there)… until they planted their flags. And then, in their view, they owned the land–at least until someone else bought it from them or conquered them and took it.
And the same will probably be true of the space race.
So get your flags and spaceships ready…