The Moon is interesting because there are precious resources that people want, such as the ice on the poles. But even though the moon hasn’t been mined yet, and seems like a great pile of resources that we can all get our hands on, they are finite and finite. And on the moon, they’re in limited areas: most of the things you want from the moon are in one place. Ice at the poles. If you want uninterrupted sunlight, it’s at the Peaks of Eternal Light that gets sunlight around the clock. If you want to put your radio telescopes in really cold areas, for example, you have to be at the bottom of the pits. This means that we will all be heading to the same place, fighting over the same things.
The Outer Space Treaty contains some directives. It says that if there are activities that cause harmful interference, there should be an advisory. Like, maybe I put a radio telescope on the far side of the moon, and somebody wants to put a launchpad next to it that’s going to kick up a lot of dust and block my view every time it’s launched, and then they’ll have to do some consulting. But that’s really vague language at this point, and we haven’t really seen what that’s going to look like. We’ll find out.
What questions of space ethics have people not considered enough yet?
Crime in space is a great example. I haven’t thought about it before. But now I’m talking to criminologists who are writing books about the idea of crime in space and how to deal with it. We just need to connect people who are working on these issues with people who are decision makers and policy makers and people in the space industry.
There are also people who want to start building tropical hotels and start attracting paying customers. We may have our first pregnancy in space. This is part of the concern about private spaceflight in general. We’ve spent all these decades with all these space travelers who have been in a tightly controlled and regulated environment because they are employees of national governments. Now there is a group of civilians who only pay customers and won’t follow the same rules.
When it comes to ethical discussions on Earth, people use many different religious, cultural, and political frameworks. How do we find a code of ethics that represents our entire planet?
I don’t know if I have the answer to that. If we knew how to all come together and work out our differences and compromise and compromise, we wouldn’t have this big of a problem with climate change as we do now. But I think we can learn from climate change and nuclear disarmament. We can see what works and what doesn’t. I think part of the problem isn’t really about space, but about humans, and how we can solve big problems together.
We often look decades, even centuries, into the future. what should we do today To work towards building a fair, equitable and sustainable presence in space?
It’s important to have these conversations, and learn more from the people who are already working on these problems. I think this is useful even if it takes centuries, after our lives, to get permanent settlements in space. I think it’s useful because by reflecting on these problems in space, we learn more about the injustices that occur today on Earth.
It also helps us imagine more radical solutions to these problems – in the context of science fiction in space – than we might consider on Earth, where some days everything seems impossible. I think this is a useful exercise that we should really visualize: if we were starting from scratch, how would we do it? And is there a way to get there from here, even on Earth?