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Trump signs executive order to support moon mining, tap asteroid resources

Artist's illustration of mining activity on the moon.
Artist's illustration of mining activity on the moon.
(Image: © James Vaughan)

The water ice and other lunar resources that will help the United States establish a long-term human presence on the moon are there for the taking, the White House believes.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order today (April 6) establishing U.S. policy on the exploitation of off-Earth resources. That policy stresses that the current regulatory regime — notably, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty — allows the use of such resources.

This view has long held sway in U.S. government circles. For example, the United States, like the other major spacefaring nations, has not signed the 1979 Moon Treaty, which stipulates that non-scientific use of space resources be governed by an international regulatory framework. And in 2015, Congress passed a law explicitly allowing American companies and citizens to use moon and asteroid resources

Related: The search for water on the moon (photos)

The new executive order makes things even more official, stressing that the United States does not view space as a "global commons" and sees a clear path to off-Earth mining, without the need for further international treaty-level agreements.

The executive order, called "Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources," has been in the works for about a year, a senior administration official said during a teleconference with reporters today. The order was prompted, at least in part, by a desire to clarify the United States' position as it negotiates with international partners to help advance NASA's Artemis program for crewed lunar exploration, the official added. (Engagement with international partners remains important, the official said.)

Artemis aims to land two astronauts on the moon in 2024 and to establish a sustainable human presence on and around Earth's nearest neighbor by 2028. Lunar resources, especially the water ice thought to be plentiful on the permanently shadowed floors of polar craters, are key to Artemis' grand ambitions, NASA officials have said.

The moon is not the final destination for these ambitions, by the way. Artemis is designed to help NASA and its partners learn how to support astronauts in deep space for long stretches, lessons that will be key to putting boots on Mars, which NASA wants to do in the 2030s.

"As America prepares to return humans to the moon and journey on to Mars, this executive order establishes U.S. policy toward the recovery and use of space resources, such as water and certain minerals, in order to encourage the commercial development of space," Scott Pace, deputy assistant to the president and executive secretary of the U.S. National Space Council, said in a statement today.

President Trump has shown considerable interest in shaping U.S. space policy. In December 2017, for example, he signed Space Policy Directive-1, which laid the groundwork for the Artemis campaign. Two other directives have aimed to streamline commercial space regulation and the protocols for space traffic control. And Space Policy Directive-4, which the president signed in February 2019, called for the creation of the Space Force, the first new U.S. military branch since the Air Force was stood up in 1947.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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  • Santa Claus
    I can see wars being fought over this in the future since more nations are launching missions to space. That's why the international community wanted to create a panel to oversee this type of thing.
    Reply
  • Wolfshadw
    He didn't. He just ignited a new space race, saying if you have the resources to get there, feel free to claim the resources you find there. A global effort might have been financially feasible, but now it's just reminiscent of the US land grabs of the 19th century.

    -Wolf sends
    Reply
  • Lovethrust
    hypatia said:
    Could someone please tell me when Trump bought the moon?
    He didn’t have too, nor does any other country. No treaty signed by the US (or any other manned spacefaring nation) forbids it, in fact private enterprise is explicitly allowed.
    Reply
  • Lovethrust
    Wolfshadw said:
    He didn't. He just ignited a new space race, saying if you have the resources to get there, feel free to claim the resources you find there. A global effort might have been financially feasible, but now it's just reminiscent of the US land grabs of the 19th century.

    -Wolf sends

    Puhlease, why do you think China 🇨🇳 has been so busy with it’s moon operations? This race has been going on since the end of ww2. By the way President Trump didn’t declare the moon open to exploitation, the United Nations did. Also if this turns in to another Louisiana Purchase or Alaska “land grab” all the better...
    Reply
  • Lovethrust
    dfjchem721 said:
    He bought it from Denmark after they wouldn't sell him Greenland.

    Another boondoggle project guaranteed to waste 1,000 times more money than it will ever bring in. But it is the contractors that count here.....

    Again, man on the moon? Been there, done that!
    Hey if you want to anchor your fate to the Earth be my guest but get of the way of the people looking to expand the reach of humanity!
    Reply
  • RCKTSCI
    The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.

    - Ronald Reagan
    Reply
  • Leftyricardo55
    Admin said:
    The lunar resources that will help the United States establish a long-term human presence on and around the moon are there for the taking, the White House believes.

    Trump signs executive order to support moon mining, tap asteroid resources : Read more
    I want the U.S. to pioneer Moon mining for profit because the Apollo Program proved that a nonprofit presence cannot be sustained. If by accident some scientific research should happen to get done, then all the better. Also Congress cannot be trusted- they're already trying to mess with Gateway.
    Reply
  • Catastrophe
    Is it known where mining will take place?
    Do you think the US will stay on this side and let the Chinese keep the other?

    Cat (from UK)
    Reply
  • kristi276
    In the good old days of colonialism many countries came under the boot of plunder in the seventh and eighteenth centuries for their natural resources. In the midst of the American "Revolution" the French and the British were battling each other for the booty of opium in the Bengal province of India. So what does this have to do with the price of rice in China? We are not the only ones going to the moon (Luna) and no one has land and mineral rights on the moon. Will we end up fighting war with China, India, Russia and Europe over the natural resources of our moon, and what will happen on Mars and other planets. This is why we have international treaties before there is a global war.
    Reply
  • kehvan
    kristi276 said:
    In the good old days of colonialism many countries came under the boot of plunder in the seventh and eighteenth centuries for their natural resources. In the midst of the American "Revolution" the French and the British were battling each other for the booty of opium in the Bengal province of India. So what does this have to do with the price of rice in China? We are not the only ones going to the moon (Luna) and no one has land and mineral rights on the moon. Will we end up fighting war with China, India, Russia and Europe over the natural resources of our moon, and what will happen on Mars and other planets. This is why we have international treaties before there is a global war.
    So, you're afraid we're going to place Martians under human hegemony?
    Reply