Red Planet Law: How We'll Share Mars When We Settle

mars exploration, mars missions
(Image credit: NASA)

When humans start thinking about settling on Mars, how we will administer the situation?

The Outer Space Treaty specifically prohibits signing nations from making any "sovereign claims" to other bodies in the solar system such as the moon and Mars. The treaty, however, does allow for exploration for the "province of all mankind"; some authors have suggested implementing shared zones on Mars where several countries could work to take the resources they need from the Red Planet.

RELATED: Musk: SpaceX to Launch People to Mars in 8 Years

new paper in Space Policy (also available on Arxiv) looks into this situation in more detail. These planetary parks would be established before humans set foot on the Red Planet, and entities exploring Mars would claim a bit of land that they could "reasonably use", the authors say. Any disputes would be reported to an administrative "Mars Secretariat" whose goal is to serve all of the colonies' interests.

"It's based on the Antarctic treaty system, which has a shared use of space for solely science purposes," lead author Sara Bruhns told DNews. Along with her supervisor Jacob Haqq-Misra, a research scientist with the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, the two also pulled examples such as the ocean "exclusive economic zones" around all countries bounded by oceans. The country has special rights to use those resources within a limit of 200 nautical miles from the coast.

The authors drew inspiration from agreements governing Antarctica's scientific activity. (Image credit: NASA)

But in some cases, a mutual agreement doesn't work out so well. The authors cite the case of Humane Society International vs. Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, where Japanese whalers killed minke whales in Australia's Antarctic zone. While Japan argued that they were doing this for scientific purposes, the authors write, Australian courts eventually ruled in Australia's favor.

VIDEO: Will We Care As Much About a Mars Landing As We Did About Exploring the Moon?

The ruling hasn't been fully enforced, but a separate case with the International Court of Justice put a temporary ban on Japanese whaling in Antarctica. "So the problem went away," Haqq-Misra said. This points to the need for a conflict resolution procedure ahead of time for Mars, he added.

Haqq-Misra plans to continue working on the Mars treaty idea and update it as more legislation comes into play. He also hopes to repeat his institution's "young scientist" summer program (that allowed him to do this work with Bruhns) to get more help for future papers.

Originally published on Discovery News.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: