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Property Rights! In! Spaaa​aaaaa​aaaaa​aaaaace!
January 12, 2013 1:12 AM   Subscribe

Practical, economic development of space — treating it not as a mere borderland of Earth, but a new frontier in its own right — has not materialized. Still, the promise is as great as it ever was, and, contrary to popular opinion, is eminently achievable — but only if the current legal framework and attitude toward space can be shifted toward seeing it as a realm not just of human exploration, but also of human enterprise.
posted by the man of twists and turns (17 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
and, contrary to popular opinion, is eminently achievable — but only if the current legal framework

Oh noooooo, we so need a real life Lazerus Long to keep the lawyers tied down on the planet. We don't need no steenk'n laws in outer space.
posted by sammyo at 4:25 AM on January 12, 2013


What we need in outer space is a fuel source that is 10 times more thrustful than the current stuff. Without that space is just a big vacuum for money (and fuel).
posted by Phredward at 7:15 AM on January 12, 2013


Still, the promise is as great as it ever was,

This is true.

and, contrary to popular opinion, is eminently achievable

This is not.

— but only if the current legal framework and attitude toward space can be shifted toward seeing it as a realm not just of human exploration, but also of human enterprise.

This is irrelevant. Because this:

Space contains valuable resources.

...is only trivially true. Yes, there are lots of things that people will pay money for that exist in space. But those things are far more easily accessible on Earth. This:

space settlement has been hampered by the lack of a clearly defined legal regime for recognizing property rights in space under current U.S. and international law.

...is basically just wrong. The reason there is no rigorous legal regime that pertains much beyond Earth's gravity well is that no one has asserted any meaningful property claims outside Earth's gravity well. And the reason for that is that no one lives out there.

This is not a chicken-egg problem, where two things seem to be inter-causal. The causal relationship between law and society is strictly one way. There can be society without meaningful laws--one would not perhaps want to live there, but this is neither here nor there--but there are no meaningful laws without a functioning society.

Until someone discovers something in space that is both inaccessible/unavailable on Earth and worth enough to justify the enormous expense of locating, securing, and bringing it back, space will remain a societal void.
posted by valkyryn at 7:18 AM on January 12, 2013


valkryn: Helium at a point in the near future I would think. It powers a boatload of our technology, and can't be replaced once it escapes earth's gravity.
posted by Canageek at 8:02 AM on January 12, 2013


Helium at a point in the near future I would think.

As I understand it, we actually get a ton of helium when we extract natural gas, and there are estimates that we've got hundreds of times our proven reserves in unproven reserves.

But remember, both of the criteria I outlined above need to be satisfied before looking outside the atmosphere becomes economically viable. We need to be able to get something that we can't get on earth, and it needs to be sufficiently valuable to justify the cost. If we can find an alternative means of doing what we're doing, that second prong would not be satisfied.
posted by valkyryn at 8:18 AM on January 12, 2013


Economic arguments about developing space based on the cost of moving men and materials from Earth right now make as much sense as predicting the U.S. Economy of 1950 based on the cost of sending wooden ships there from Spain in the fifteenth century.

The only thing dumber than carrying our laws into space would be carrying our ideas of economics into space. Establishing an industrial foothold is hard, but once you do, matters start to change dramatically. What was expensive becomes cheaper, until it becomes effectively free. There are spectacular amounts of natural resources in the inner solar system, and it is a natural environment for robotics and automated systems. Getting going is hard, but there is a threshold which, if we're able to cross it, would effectively change everything.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:35 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


space settlement has been hampered by the lack of a clearly defined legal regime for recognizing property rights in space under current U.S. and international law.

Space settlement has been hampered by the lack of money and a clear and strong goal to settle space (or the moon or Mars). An Apollo era budget, which would be around 100 billion a year, instead of the current 17 billion a year, would do wonders for space settlement.

Until then, humanity will continue slowly crawling forward in this area. damn it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:06 AM on January 12, 2013


Talk of settlement at this point will always awaken a huge amount of resistance, for good reason. It is insanely difficult and, yes, expensive to lead with a settlement objective. First we establish space based systems for building structures and acquiring and utilizing energy and materials. More to the point, we start by making space pay for itself rather than suck Earth-sourced energy and materials out of us. As I mentioned above, robotics make a lot of sense in space (lack of unpredictable forces, ubiquitous microgravity), and humans don't -- we're too fragile and have too many needs.

We can talk about putting people in space in significant numbers once we've got the systems to support them in place and the cost of building habitats powering them is on its way down to nothing. And while all that's going on we'll have done a lot more labs, pilot programs and trial habitats, and learned a lot more about what it really takes to sustain life. But putting the cart before the horse will doom it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:16 AM on January 12, 2013


Talk of settlement at this point will always awaken a huge amount of resistance, for good reason.

Yes, Pastabagel's comment about a asteroid with $20 trillion in raw materials would turn more heads.

In the process of mining said asteroid, and/or others, humanity would process produced lots of space settlements.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:25 AM on January 12, 2013


There may be good ideas in the article, but I always like to know who I'm talking to.
The New Atlantis is published by the Center for the Study of Technology and Society in partnership with the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the Witherspoon Institute.
Ethics and Public Policy Center
- The Supreme Court should set right the relationship between marriage and federalism by ruling that both the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 are constitutionally sound

- Why ObamaCare Is Wrong for America
The Witherspoon Institute
- What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense
posted by benito.strauss at 9:29 AM on January 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


In the process of mining said asteroid, and/or others, humanity would process produced lots of space settlements.

I wish I agreed, but as has been pointed out, mountaintop removal mining doesn't really create many jobs. This will be a million times truer in space. There's nothing about tearing apart an asteroid that robots, backed by teleoperation from a remote base, maybe even on Earth, wouldn't likely be more suited to. The lag time will be significant (at best about 15 minutes, at worst several times that), but again, unpredictable things don't happen too much with freely-floating objects in space, so you could work with that.

benito.strauss -- yeah, a far-right perspective fits right in with the article's position. Our entire justification for displacing Native Americans was that they didn't 'understand the concept of property'. Granted there aren't going to be moon people this time out, but beating the old "property rights" drum is entirely in character for that set.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:39 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Settlements in Space. Or on Mars, or on Titan, or out in the Oort Cloud. This will never be driven by our curiosity about what's there. It will happen when we discover a quid to go with the pro quo.

We should figure a way to avoid the colonial mode of thinking to make the colonization of the asteroid belt different from settlements in North America, or outposts in India. By that I mean that, just because there aren't any space-natives to minimize (while stealing their rubber or gold or land), doesn't mean that our notions of capitalism aren't riding on exploitation here on Earth. This isn't as much of a tangent as you may think if you realize that the "standard of living" (wealth) in post-industrial countries is based an economic house of cards that, even as we contemplate the boundless booty from the mines of Europa, may be in the process of tumbling down.

Star Trek science is admirable, and worthy of pursuit, but Star Trek economics is still in the WTF phase.
posted by mule98J at 10:47 AM on January 12, 2013


Space settlement has been hampered by the lack of money and a clear and strong goal to settle space (or the moon or Mars). An Apollo era budget, which would be around 100 billion a year, instead of the current 17 billion a year, would do wonders for space settlement.

And would be roughly 20% of the current Defense budget. We'll throw half a trillion a year into a hole designed for making lots and lots of people dead, but heaven forfend we spend a cent more on starting to properly take living people out of the gravity well and colonizing the solar system.
posted by chimaera at 10:55 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Economist Armen Papazian writes about money creation to finance space exploration.
posted by anadem at 11:09 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


putting the cart before the horse will doom it.

Actually... that's what you're doing.

Space is not a fun place to live. "In fact it's cold as hell," as it were. So thinking "We just need to get a bunch of people up there and we'll figure out what we can do in space," is exactly backward. We first need to figure out why anyone would want to live in space. Then we'll figure out how to put people there.
posted by valkyryn at 2:56 PM on January 12, 2013


We just need to get a bunch of people up there and we'll figure out what we can do in space,"

What? I said nothing remotely resembling that. I said precisely the opposite of that in every particular. I did not suggest throwing people up there without a plan, I spoke of having a plan and not throwing people up there. I spoke of developing space-based resources and an industrial capacity that can sustain itself, using principally robotics and remotes, before we can even consider colonization. It hardly even needs saying, though perhaps I should have said it anyway, that a self-sustaining industrial foothold in space can do a lot more than just sustain itself, and is thus worth persuing even if you have no future colonizing objective in mind.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:31 PM on January 12, 2013


I think radical conservatives moving into space on ideological grounds would be a wonderful idea! I'm not being glib, either: having all the people leave who tell me I'm a parasite for being dependent on government supplied medical care would be great; if they actively help secure the the long-term future of the human race in the process, so much the better!
posted by StrikeTheViol at 4:20 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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