Moon Boom
MOON BOOM. More flags may soon by flying on the airless moon. How should development of space resources proceed?
A recent Scientific American Exploration, Home, Sweet Home, reported that the confirmation of useable water on the moon would slash the cost of establishing lunar colonies there and could speed plans that are already underway for permanent bases. In that feature, we asked visitors to this website whether they thought that commercial interests should have a stake in developing the resources of space and if development should wait until the fabric of international law provides more safeguards, in particular, the still-unratified Moon Treaty.

As always, we received many more answers than we could possibly post--but several themes emerged. The majority felt that businesses should definitely have unregulated access to the moon. Many argued that free enterprise could further human interests in space more quickly--and more affordably--than governments could. A handful believed that commercial interests could benefit lunar colonization, but only if they were strictly regulated. A minority against lunar commercialization expressed fears about the potential abuse of moon resources.

Here is a selection of the responses.

Encourage Commercialization

The essence of liberty is allowing individuals the opportunity to accomplish all the good that they can. Space is a vast opportunity that should not be wasted. To forbid the exploitation of the moon's resources by whatever agencies or individuals can put them to good use would be a crime against humanity.

Lester Roark
Union, Ore.

If companies got involved, it might ease the heavy burden on tax payers for added research and development--which would benefit everyone.

Martin E. Montney

I personally believe that the exploration and exploitation of the moon and outward is now just a matter of time and money. The Gold Rush is an appropriate analogy. The only thing holding the exploiters back is NASA. There is no easy access to space, and who and what goes is under close scrutiny and supervision. The discovery of water on the moon has upped the ante, and now we are supposed to sit back and see how the paths to the Final Frontier develop.

David M. Cutlip Jr
Sutton, W.Va.

Commercialization is an ugly word. In any successful exploration, though, it has proved inevitable. So it was with the European discovery and colonization of the Americas. At least this time there are no natives to exploit and dispossess!

We already have commercial ventures in space, most importantly satellite communications valuable to significant parts of the population. Commercial ventures will make public ventures that may be of great scientific value much less costly.

Paul D, Brower
Coldwater, Mich.

Most certainly commercial interests should be allowed free access to materials on the moon. Because of the enormous expense involved, only the most responsible companies should be involved. This in turn will provide additional research resources to help solve the numerous problems that will surely arise.

After all, there is only so much that NASA can do on its own. There is far more drive and initiative in free enterprise projects than in the cumbersome government way of working. Decisions can be made more efficiently. We can see on our own planet that the greatest successful projects have been the result of free enterprise.

John Walker
Brockville, Ontario

I think that we should exploit the moons resources, but only by a needed amount. What we have learned already is that when all of our resources run out here on Earth, there is nothing we can do to get them back.

Robert B. Maxwell
Nassau Bay, Texas

The law of the frontier has applied since the dawn of man; I expect that it should apply to the moon as well. No one, and no government, "owns" the moon. Whoever can establish the first and best presence there should be allowed to exploit whatever they find. Those who incur the risk and expense can reap the benefit. At least this time there are no indigenous people, flora or fauna involved.

Perhaps "should be able to" isn't quite how I feel--I don't like the idea that anything, including the moon, is there for human exploitation. Maybe "cannot legitimately be prevented" is closer to the mark.

Thomas Caldwell
Springfield, Va.

Space is, in a certain perspective, no different from just another continent. Had there been no economic benefit, Spain wouldn't have colonized the new world. England, or should I say English companies, wouldn't have supplied and recruited colonists if they hadn't seen money in it. This question of whether resources in space should be open to private business seems almost silly.

Most governments have a tough time using tax dollars simply to advance science or exploration. If the computer had been left up to the government, we would be using 286's about now. I'm not saying this to bash our government; I'm saying it because it is a reality.

The question really boils down to whether we want the resources in space to be utilized or not. If those resources are open only to world governments, then it will be a very long time before those resources get used.

James Hansen
Chester, Idaho

Of course commercial interests should be allowed to use moon resources. One of the main motivations for developing space-based infrastructures is the hope that eventually we will be able to have a self-supporting (read profitable) space industry.

The word "exploit" has many negative semantic connotations. It implies a purely profit-motivated "rape" of a given resource, without thought of future effects or sustainability. If the resources available in space are used (rather than exploited) as a means for a commercial enterprise to realize a profit, it will allow the company to expand its space-based operations.

This is the only plausible approach for ever establishing a fully self-sustaining human presence in space. Although governments must develop the initial infrastructure, they have no real interest in shouldering the full financial burden of space development. They would, of course, love to have a bunch of profitable industries giving them tax dollars.)

Eric Moffatt
Ottawa, Ontario

Commercial interests not only should exploit lunar resources, but must! Just think of the impact on our environment if most heavy industry were based on the moon. Nuclear plants and other factories would have almost no impact on living conditions.

Moreover, the reduced gravity might permit polymers and new and old alloys to anneal, cure and temper into stronger, more durable lattices. Any company that exploits space will become rich, raising the standard of living for all.

Also, If we wish to continue as a race and civilization, expanding into space is vital to the very survival of our species!

Matthew Heino
Manteca, Calif.

Private enterprise should be encouraged to exploit lunar resources. At this point in human history, we see that the Earth is far more fragile and the universe is far more unforgiving than we suspected. I am more concerned that we as a species obtain a strong foot-hold in space than I am concerned about damage to a pristine lunar landscape. After all, in the long term, cosmic projectiles will erase evidence of our presence on the moon as well on Earth.

Dale S. Smith
Ashland, Ore.

Commercial interests will operate on the moon sooner or later. I think the interesting question is what role commercial interests can or should play in the initial development and exploration of the moon.

John Troxler
Chattanooga, Tenn.

I can't say that I am all excited about seeing a billboard go up just above the MAN in the MOON's right eye brow; however, I think that we should acknowledge the value of business's capitalization of research. After all, let's remember the tradition of the New World explorers. They may not have had pure, academic motives, but were quite effective nonetheless. At least in this case there are no natives to rape and pillage.

Scott Zook
Not given

A private corporation could accomplish much more with less waste, greater speed and more efficiency than a government could. Besides, free enterprise and the exploratory spirit is what this country is based on. How would you prevent companies from exploiting the moon? We can hardly control the policies of foreign countries.

I say allow private companies to go!

Michael J. Dale
Chicago, Ill.

The way things have been after the Cold War era, no government has been able to accomplish a steady project for lunar exploration and exploitation--largely due to the enormous costs involved. The cost of a lunar base is very small compared to "Star Wars" project, but the second claims to protect a country now whereas the first promises profits only later.

Instead of waiting for government to take action, I believe it is time to allow (even help?) companies to form a lunar base. It is a dangerous thing to do, but had telecommunications remained the property of governments, we wouldn't have cheap international calls or cellular telephones!

Martinakis Ioannis
Thessaloniki, Macedonia

Responsible world corporations and commercial organizations must be allowed to participate in lunar development and colonization. If development is restricted to governments, the cost would be prohibitive and Americans would be extremely adverse to having their taxes increased even for this noble purpose.

However, international rules safeguarding the lunar environment would have to be strenuously enforced. Also, investors should be allowed to take part in this venture at an early time by purchasing initial public offerings of lunar stock issued by an international holding company. These stockholders would receive high-priority visitation rights in compensation for high risk.

Dan Kimbrough
Richmond, Va.

I strongly agree that commercial concerns should be allowed to exploit the moon. This would make the exploration of space much more affordable. I am sure that any landmarks and conservation issues would be properly addressed.

Robert H. Arthur
Oakdale, Calif.

These past 30 years have been a lesson in understanding that space exploration driven by government funding will never near our expectations. History shows us that the most intensive explorations have always been pushed, in one way or another, by reasons of commerce. The promise of new profits, though not as sublime a motive as science and the quest for knowledge, is ultimately going to be the real force driving our travel within the solar system.

It has been said many times that the survival of the human species in the end will depend on our departure from this crib we call Earth. Humanity will be susceptible to destruction as long as it resides on just one planet. We need to put the eggs of our future in more than one basket. Promoting business exploitation of moon resource might very well be an excellent first step.

Oliver Zuniga
San Jose
Costa Rica

Commercial interests are more than a fact of life here on Earth and have been for centuries. The first time I walked down into Carlsbad Caverns, I thought that it was surely good that the operation was built in the 1930s or 1940s so that so many people could learn about caves. Environmentalists and government regulations would never permit such a place to be built today.

Somewhere I picked up on the story that a theater ride is being planned that would be an actual live 3D image from a rover on the moon. I'm sure that others are thinking about mining operations and a host of profitable projects. I say they should go for it without government regulations. Unlikely there will be any bat guano though.

Jim Andree
Austin, Tex.

If the moon's resources were commercialized, growth would probably increase significantly and lead to faster colonization. Because large companies can probably invest more than NASA or the European Space Agency can, we should allow them to make some money selling their services, and to invest in space exploration elsewhere.

Mikko Virkkila
Lohja, Lansiuusimaa

The question should read, "Can we stop commercial interests from exploiting the moon's resources?" I believe we can't and we shouldn't.

Scott Bell
San Diego, Calif.

Before exploitation must come exploration, and we should encourage commercially-oriented lunar exploration, as it offsets the immense costs involved. The payback is in science, technology and experience, and not necessarily in product; the former will lead to the latter as space exploration moves outward, using the moon as a crucial stepping-stone. Certainly commercial interests will benefit from lunar exploration and exploitation, but so shall we all.

Manfred Buchheit
Holyrood, NF

I think that the private sector is extremely important. Space will not be developed if there is no profit. Governments did not colonize America. I don't think that NASA can provide us a future in space. If the government owned space, it would be no worse than communism. If we are to develop space, we need to build habitats free from Earth rule. And private enterprise can lower the cost of accessing space for everyone.

Robert Reed
St. Louis, Mo.

Regulate Lunar Development

Creating a moon base is vital to the further exploration of space. However, private ownership of the moon should not be allowed, and commercial use of resources found in the moon should be banned now before anything happens. The moon should serve humanity as a whole, not any one individual.

We, the generation of tomorrow, want to look at our sky at night and see the same moon that we see now--not a field of mines.

Bernardo A. Mainou
Peoria, Ariz.

Commercial interests regarding the moon's natural resources should focus only on expanding knowledge and the human race. Easter Island, for example, displays a profound lesson to modern humankind: if a civilization exhausts the resources the land has to offer, the population will perish.

Nations must put their resources together, in a collaborative effort, to make moon colonization possible. The Concord airplane and the Mir space station, became possible from such a collaboration. History does indeed repeat itself, and such innovations, through cooperation and peaceful intentions, become manifest in positive and non-destructive forms.

Frank John Unger
St. Louis, Mo.

Commercial interests should be allowed to exploit the moon, and by extension, other space resources. Human history has shown that every frontier needed a critical mass of people and resources (both scientific and financial) to be developed. Witness the limbo the space program under NASA and other government institutions. Just imagine what creativity and dynamism we could unleash if space exploration were opened to a larger sector.

It can only be successful, though, given some set of legal obligations binding all potential spacefaring nations, corporations or individuals and covering code of conduct, rules of the road, salvage rights, bounty discoveries and so forth.

Kelvin Yu

Exploit is a bad word; use may be better. Appropriate restrictions and responsible behavior should be required. It would be a travesty if the moon ends up like the coal strip mines of Pennsylvania. But if we do not to encourage commercial interest in space, it will take us a long time to venture away from Earth--if ever. And that would leave us an easy target for extinction.

Luke J. Nester
Harrisburg, Penn.

I'm against letting private industry lead projects to the moon or beyond at this time. A recent article described how electromagnetic waves from cellular phones can interfere with radio telescopes and hospital heart monitors--which suggests that frontiers must be explored with a coordinated effort of a few large groups, namely governments, rather than many small groups, or businesses.

It might slow innovation, but innovation left unregulated can be risky.

Lewis Bassin
Staten Island, NY.

Encouraging commercial exploitation of the moon, and Low (and High) Earth Orbit will focus more human intelligence on these challenges and will accelerate progress in developing relevant technologies. International regulation will be necessary and this too will prove beneficial.

Jim Calhoun
Guntersville, Ala.

Commercial interests should be allowed to exploit the moon's resources, but they must be controlled or supervised so that they will not drain the resources or damage future explorations. One positive aspect is that commercial experiences could provide a great fountain of knowledge and new ideas for future development in space.

Francisco Yevenes

The first heavenly bodies explored may well be the last. It seems prudent to preclude any group--be it commercial, military, scientific or other--from removing or destroying lunar resources until they are shown to be renewable or essentially unlimited.

Pat Clark
Menomonee Falls, Wisc.

I think it's great that humankind can explore the moons and planets of this solar system, and I hope to see humans living on these bodies some day. But I think that if industry is given permission to use the moon, they must be more responsible than they have been on earth. We are just guests here. Who is going to clean up the mess that Pathfinder left on mars? Are we just going to start littering the cosmos too?

Gregory A. Bell
Sarasota, Fla.

Ban Commercial Use

Is it time to begin another fight--now in space--for natural resources that belong to all of human kind?

Armando Ortega
Mexico City

I do not think that commercial interests should be allowed to use the moon. There are so many issues with corruption and who has the rights; it would just be a chance for the companies that are already rich to control space as well. I can already see the Microsoft logo on all the spaceflights entering and leaving the Earth.

Soren Ryland
Atlanta, Ga.

Commercial interests should not be allowed to touch lunar soil or utilize lunar resources. The interests of all humans should be the purification, preservation and propagation of our genetic information (and that of other species as well).

Since the industrial revolution, the natural living conditions on this planet have been degrading. If we are to survive (in the long term), we must expand beyond the planet we are consuming. The news should never reveal that an Exxon drilling storage tank suffered a major water spill on the moon.

Dean Hall
Manhattan, Kan.

Definitely not. Shouldn't even be thinking about it at this point. First things first!

Diane Smith
Sebring, Fla.

Please do not commercialize the resources of moon.

Jagadees S.
Trivandrum, Kerala

We should not allow industry to exploit the moon's space and resources. Although it is undoubtedly true that commercial investment would accelerate plans for a moon colony, that may not be the wisest decision to make. The first tentative steps humankind makes toward colonizing other worlds should not be a commercial venture; rather, they should be undertaken in peace, through the cooperation of Earth's nations.

It should not be a business endeavor, but one of the most spectacular and awesome events in human history.

Nathan Wall
St. Petersburg, Fla.

The answer, which should be obvious if one uses common sense as a guideline, is absolutely NO!!! We as a species have not learned how to handle our own planet. To think otherwise is just downright foolish. As someone once quoted, "The only thing infinite is our capacity for self-deception." Only greed, ego or power could prompt someone to want to exploit the pristine beauty of the moon.

Let's do something novel and take care of what we have instead of what we want! In JRR Tolkien's trilogy Lord of the Rings the wizard Gandalf remarks, "It is wisdom to recognize necessity when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may seem to those who cling to false hope." Let's not be foolish.

Billy Fagan
Chestnut Ridge, NY.