The moon has been attracting a lot of attention recently. Articles, reports and learned papers are appearing presenting a range of ideas for our satellite. The obvious ones want to make it into a base in space from which we can launch missions to far off worlds.
Others want to mine it for its enormous store of valuable metals, minerals and water. Missions to explore these possibilities are back on the agenda and China, for one, went to explore the dark side of the moon (cue music).
Meanwhile the President of the United States has signed the Artemis Accords which will lead to companies being able to mine precious minerals and water on the moon. We last heard that the Trump Administration is talking to its space partners including Canada, Japan, and European countries, as well as the United Arab Emirates.
So not China or Russia.
The problem is that neither the US, nor any of its partners, nor indeed Russia or China own the moon, so quite how it will be legal to sign agreements to mine it is hard to follow. According to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that says ‘celestial bodies and the moon are not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.’
We have a situation that resembles an impasse or the Wild West in space.
One idea, mooted by Flinders University archaeologist and space researcher Alice Gorman, is to make the moon a person or at least give it personhood, on the same basis that a corporation can be made a person in law, or, as Gorman says, the Whanganui River in New Zealand, which has personhood and what goes on there is protected and governed by a Board of Trustees. Quite how and who would decide who the Board of Trustees was is anyone’s guess but let’s hope they are scientists, not politicians.
But we are not in the age of the Wild West, we are in the age of being concerned about resources and habitat and environment and sustainability and Gorman and others are worried that we could damage or destroy the moon’s natural balance (we’ll keep comments about our ability to look after our own planet to ourselves).
Another angle to this debate is that scientists are increasingly confident that there is life on Venus, or at least in the atmosphere above the planet. It may be microscopic and live in droplets of gas that cycle between liquid and gas states but it could be alive.
So, where does that leave the ‘personhood’ debate?
Presumably, there are some pretty exciting minerals and metals on Venus (not to mention Mars or Saturn). And if it turns out that there are valuable resources, do we grant Venus personhood too? Do we not exploit them to further our ambitions to explore the Universe and leave them well alone or do we try and behave a bit better than we have here and attempt to mine our neighbours sustainably?
Either way, we should wait and watch what happens on the moon before we get too excited about Venus.
After all, it would be a shame to damage it:
* The Moon’s a balloon