Trump Assures Free Enterprise in Outer Space

We have some very good news to report today. As our long-time readers are aware, your Curmudgeon is an advocate of free enterprise — not only here on Earth, but also out in space. Therefore we have criticized the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which was signed by the US. According to Wikipedia:

The treaty explicitly forbids any government from claiming a celestial resource such as the Moon or a planet, claiming that they are the common heritage of mankind.

In How Not To Enter the Space Age we said:

Isn’t that sweet? [It] means that no one owns anything. It means no private company will ever develop the resources that are out there. Government clerks might talk about it, but no one in his right mind thinks they could ever accomplish anything.

But then there was some good news. In 2015 we wrote Free Enterprise in Space?, and said:

Today we have some very surprising news. Congress has just passed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. To our astonishment, it’s reported that Obama has signed it.

We quoted a news story that said:

The U.S. commercial space industry is celebrating today. President Obama just signed new legislation that allows resources on Mars, the Moon, asteroids and bodies in space to be extracted, used as well as sold for commercial utilization and exploration.


The Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act for 2015 or HR 2262, the Act permits companies that specialize in asteroid mining to keep all resources collected.


The new legislation permits U.S. citizens to own minerals extracted on the Moon and asteroids, but not own the land where they can be found. The implication with regard to property rights in space as stirred a great deal of attentions amongst lawmakers and entrepreneurs.

The last time we discussed the subject was four years ago, in Where No One Has Gone Before, where we mentioned that PhysOrg had a copy of a blog article that was wildly ranting against the free enterprise system in outer space. We ended that post by saying:

And so, dear reader, if you were running a mining company, would you be interested in financing the titanic effort to explore the asteroid belt or the moons of Jupiter, under the wise and benign supervision — hee hee! — of an international body for the benefit of everyone on Earth — including the Amazonian tribes and the villagers of Bangladesh, who probably never even heard of the asteroids?

We have, shall we say, a few doubts that such an academically contrived regime will result in a flow — or even a trickle — of much-needed resources to Earth. But maybe we’re wrong. Perhaps international bureaucracies, not free enterprise, will boldly go where no one has gone before.

The reason for all that background is because the subject of economic freedom off the Earth is back in the news. We just found this at PhysOrg: Trump signs an executive order allowing mining the moon and asteroids. This will be difficult for those who dislike both free enterprise and Trump, so we hope you can control yourselves. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

In 2015, the Obama administration signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA, or H.R. 2262) into law. … On April 6th, the Trump administration took things a step further by signing an executive order that formally recognizes the rights of private interests to claim resources in space. This order, titled “Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources,” effectively ends the decades-long debate that began with the signing of the Outer Space Treaty in 1967.

Control yourself, dear reader. PhysOrg then says:

This order builds on both the CSLCA and Space Directive-1 (SD-1), which the Trump administration signed into law on December 11th, 2017. It establishes that “Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law,” and that the United States does not view space as a “global commons.”

Unbelievably fantastic news! PhysOrg then tells us:

This order puts an end to decades of ambiguity regarding commercial activities in space, which were technically not addressed by the Outer Space or Moon treaties. … As of June 2019, the treaty has been signed by no less than 109 countries, while another 23 have signed it but have not yet completed the ratification process. At the same time, there has been an ongoing debate regarding the full meaning and implications of the treaty. Specifically, Article II of the treaty states: “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

We’re only about a third of the way through the PhysOrg article, but this is already a very long post. Oh wait — we have to include this:

Russia’s space agency (Roscosmos) officially condemned the executive order and likened it to colonialism. [BWAHAHAHAHAHA!] These sentiments were summed up in a statement issued by Sergey Saveliev, Roscosmos’ deputy director-general on international cooperation: “Attempts to expropriate outer space and aggressive plans to actually seize territories of other planets hardly set the countries (on course for) fruitful cooperation. There have already been examples in history when one country decided to start seizing territories in its interest— everyone remembers what came of it.”

When the Ruskies are opposed to something, you know it’s good. Okay, we’ve said enough. Now it’s your turn, dear reader.

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23 responses to “Trump Assures Free Enterprise in Outer Space

  1. And the Chinese?

  2. “your Curmudgeon is an advocate of free enterprise”
    which isn’t lawlessness – we know that too. And the best laws totally coincidentally invariably are to your own benefit and stand in the way of a healthy society like say Norway.

    “To our astonishment”
    Well, yes, but less so to leftists like me, who actually accept facts and thus understand that Obama was almost as right wing as Donald the Clown on socio-economical issues.

    “This will be difficult for those who dislike both free enterprise and Trump, so we hope you can control yourselves.”
    No worries. Thus far no single space program was ever set up by any free enterprise and that’s not going to change any time soon. So this is good news for anyone who thinks it a colossal waste of money, that could be used so much better – like fighting povery, say beginning with the USA itself.

    Btw I like Donald the Clown for his significant contributions to the decline of the superpower called USA. I fear that, probably not for the USA, but very possibly for the rest of the world, Joe Biden will be worse.

    “When the Ruskies are opposed to something, you know it’s good.”
    Uber-Ruskie Vladimir Putin was opposed to Hillary Clinton.
    Verily, our dear SC’s political views are no more coherent than creacrap.
    S**t, now I lost control after all, albeit not for the reason hinted at in this blogpost.

  3. Sounds rather presumptuous for a US president to think that by signing an executive order whereby all treaty signers must legally be bound to. No, el Presidente Trump’s EO is quite unilateral.
    It’s a concern, too, that the US government might ultimately subsidize private industries in this effort is equally presumptive.
    But this is the mind of the conservative, I.e., Republican.
    Despoiling an asteroids appearance might get little attention, but creating an open pit mining scar on Mar’s surface is not recommended. Then again, look at how kindly we’ve treated or home planet.
    But like everything else that touches on money, Trump supports the notion. Likely he heard the idea on Fox News, always at the forefront of gibberish.

  4. @TomS: my bet is that China, the rising superpower, next decades will focus on replacing the USA as the main boss on Earth. That will happen sooner than free enterprise exploring space. The corona crisis might offer another excellent opportunity. The country has been remarkably successful at increasing influence in Europe.

    Still the USA and its little sister UK have surpassed China in another aspect: corona death toll. Why would our dear SC, staunch advocate of free enterprise, remain silent on the glorious role it plays in this crisis? Also let’s consult Morgan Stanley, not exactly a socialist bureaucracy ….. it predicts an American economic decline of 14% till 50%. Ah well, matter of priorities, I suppose. When talking about exploiting the moon, who cares about 25 000 corona deaths and counting? They wouldn’t have been able to invest in the Big Project anyway. Oh wait, for the time being neither will any free enterprise.
    In the meantime China is starting up its economy again, but given that the crisis is global it will suffer too. As we Dutch say: our dear SC is happy with a dead sparrow.

  5. Michael Fugate

    Once we not only guarantee, but actually provide, basic human rights to all individuals on the planet, can we allow individuals to profit at the expense of those rights. The current inequities in health care, food, housing, employment, education, web access, voting access, etc. are exacerbated by the shutdown. There should be a basic income and basic services before we worry about so-called free enterprise – which costs people and the planet dearly.

  6. docbill1351

    In a separate executive order, Trump called for appropriations and the commissioning of a space mining ship, the USCSS Nostromo.

  7. Michael Fugate

    Trump – the very definition of failure – as in he “trumped” that test:

  8. Formerly Holding The Line In Florida

    So in perhaps 100 years, providing humans last that long, we will actually start doing something tangible in space besides learning what Mars is really like with robots and putting up new GPS satellites? Seems like 50 years ago we were on the moon and Star Trek was the thing. But just like the Trek, manned NASA exploration got cancelled. The whole point is useless. Just like Beloved Leader’s Space Force. Never going to happen. But then again, I am an optimist.

  9. Formerly Holding The Line In Florida says: “Never going to happen.”

    It’ll happen, as soon as we have better transportation. It’s like the wild West. Not much happened in the days of the horse and wagon. But as soon as the railroad came along, ka-boomo-o, it all got settled and civilized.

  10. a.) Nobody detests that 300-lb degenerate more than me, nevertheless b.) I got no objections. But how does anyone propose to send or lug any resources that are extracted from, say, Mars, to earth in practical quantities at a practical cost?

  11. Derek Freyberg

    And I know just the person who should go off prospecting there!

  12. Derek Freyberg

    And real soon now would be good – I’m sure his US Space Farce could lend him a rocket.
    Cue Nicholas Cage in “The Rock” – “You’re the rocket man”.

  13. Dave Luckett

    PhysOrg says that this Executive Order means that “the United States does not view space as a “global commons””.

    I beg to differ. This order, which grants that there is a right to exploit space resources for personal or corporate gain, but not to own property there, is exactly treating space as a commons. The resources on the commons – wood, water, grazing, beekeeping, and so on, were available to anyone who had “commonage rights” – usually, it is true, those who were “born or blood” of the manor, village, wapentake, or hundred. The local community, in other words. A manorial or local court settled conflicts over those rights, restricted excessive usage, and so on. Nearly always, these decisions were made on precedent, traditional principles and the common law. And they related to renewables.

    At the moment – and, I think, for the foreseeable future – there is no question of competing claims to resources, for the major “resources” to be found in space are ubiquitous – solar energy, and the effects of free fall and hard vacuum, which are useful for some industrial processes. I think that actual mining operations on the Moon, let alone on other planets or asteroids, are going to be a long time coming, and there’s no point in setting up tribunals to deal with conflicts that can’t happen yet. If the possibility of dispute over competing claims ever arises, a “local court” will have to rule. I would probably be more interested in what form this court would take, and who would constitute it, if I were not certain that I will be a long time dead by the time it is needed.

  14. For all you nay sayers: We have his word on it.

  15. Robert van Bakel

    And what private company will launch a Hubble Space Telescope, purely for research? And what private company will send Mars and Lunar rovers just to learn more; or the Webb telescope just for knowledge and curiosity?
    What private enterprise says ‘we need to spend billions on research and development with possibly (probably) no return? ‘
    I want private enterprise as far away from space as possible.
    US and Soviet citizens paid for the 60s space race, private enterprise in the US just succeed on the public teeth, just like today.
    Hey, let’s do what some nut job conservatives want to do at Fox and and hand all Covid-19 decisions over to private pharmaceutical companies.
    Their proven efficiency in the private sector will make them stunningly efficient.
    Hell why stop there let’s have a private army and navy, think of the cost savings: they would start by downsizing:roots:(

  16. Talking about spaceSHIPS, our Glorious Leader must have been dreaming about being the captain of a wonderful spaceship out there bringing riches back to the USA — but then the crew got restless and rumors of mutiny became louder and louder. Evidently, said Glorious Leader must not understand what a mutiny entails:

    His tweet today:
    “Tell the Democrat Governors that “Mutiny On The Bounty” was one of my all time favorite movies. A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain. Too easy!”

    Did Trump actually ever watch the movie? If so, did he forget that the crew set Capt. Bligh adrift in a rowboat with little more than a few provisions and a sextant? Or did Trump get his mutiny movies mixed up, and sees himself as Capt. Queeg in “The Caine Mutiny”? Actually, the comparison fits — I can almost see Trump rattling those three ball bearings around in his and as some reporter asks him a question he really doesn’t want to answer.

    “Those ungrateful governors kept trying to steal my strawberries ventilators, but I fooled ’em! Bwaahahahaha!”

    (I apologize for highjacking this non-FFZ thread, but Trump is such an easy mark for parody.)

  17. Our dear SC produces some more wisdoms?

    “Not much happened in the days of the horse and wagon. But as soon as the railroad came along, ka-boomo-o, it all got settled and civilized.”
    Like in Greece, 600 BCE? That was called Diolkos, you can look it up.
    Or perhaps you were thinking of the railroads in Nova Scotia in the 1720’s?
    The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad of 1827?
    Or …. perhaps ….. as so often, blinded by nutty ideology as you are, you got your facts wrong again and it was not a matter of ka-boomo-o, with civilization caused by railroads, but rather a complex feedback process? With other factors playing a big role, like ethnic cleansing and genocide? It’s also typical that supporters of free enterprise talk so much about property rights, except when land needs to be stolen from its lawful owners.
    But granted, it’s not likely that that will happen in space, so that point is yours. I also agree that it’s a matter of better transportation. That’s also exactly the problem, which isn’t any closer to a solution than say 40 years ago. Ah well, some people need their dream of a liberal-capitalist utopia especially when the actual existing liberal-capitalist system is cracking because of a little virus.

  18. @FrankB
    In the old west of the USA, the railroads were built with massive federal subsidy. Lots of land. (Taken from the original inhabitants, the Indians. But that’s another story.) BTW settlement was encouraged by federal subsidies of land. (And backed up by federal US Army troops. But that’s another story.)
    Good old free enterprise, American style. And then there were little programs like land grant colleges of
    agriculture and mining, and subsidies
    for crops.

  19. What Robert implies above. Investments in space technology can be represented as an iceberg, the hidden majority of which are the tremendous amounts spent during the Cold War (including those for development of cruise missiles). Since then we’ve made some improvements in fuel and navigation technology, and added robots to replace (potential) manual labour, but a modern rocket still is still very much a rocket.

    And those trillions in initial investments were all borne by the opposing states.

  20. Michael Fugate

    Free Enterprise’s motto; why pay for something if you can steal it for free or if, better yet, get tax payers to pay you to steal it from them.

  21. Dave Luckett

    FrankB, a railway is much more than a paved or rail trackway, and require a moving source of traction, far more powerful, faster and more enduring than draught animals can provide, far more cheaply. What made railways the instruments that opened up the land west of the Mississippi was a sunk and running cost per ton-kilometer over many kilometers, far lower than any form of transport ever, even canals, which are far more restricted by landscape. This became possible in the mid-nineteenth century. Steam-powered railways had existed for only two decades before that, after all, and it took at least that long – longer! – for the technology to mature to the point where railways could span continents.

    TomS, yes, railways took up land, and land was expropriated from indigenous peoples – who had been merrily expropriating it from one another for ever. Humans conflict over resources, usually land. Often they fight over it, using deadly force. No group of people identified by culture on the planet is innocent of that. The rapid technological advance of “western” cultures – itself a spin-off from the enlightenment – gave them a huge advantage in that conflict, which they exploited. You have a more charitable understanding of human beings than I if you think that any culture presented with such advantages and opportunities would have nobly refrained from exploiting them. We are the fortunate heirs of that process. I am of the opinion that deploring that fact is of limited moral value.

    Railways – sorry, railroads – made the enormous resources of the American prairies and west cost-effectively accessible. Of course the Federal government encouraged, subsidised and enabled them. They’d have been crazy not to.

    At the moment we’re in the horse-drawn stage of space transportation. That’s what is holding back genuine exploitation of space. So long as it’s rockets, the cost per weight is prohibitive. We need a space elevator. A combination of superstrong materials and superconductivity might make it feasible. But that’s well in the future, I think.

  22. Karl Goldsmith

    America does love it’s fiction.

  23. @Dave Luckett
    The expansion of railroads was offered as an example of what human being should do: Free Enterprise. I did not judge the morality of what was done. My point was the flexibility of the economics of Free Enterprise, if the building of the railroads in the Old West of the USA is a paradigm of FE.