Proving that we are definitely living in the future that science fiction imagined, President Obama signed asteroid mining rights into law last week. Called the US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA), the law gives companies the rights to the natural resources that they mine from outer space. The law is controversial because it basically gives private US companies free rein in space, which goes against the policy of international cooperation that has been in place since space exploration became a thing.
The bill protects private companies, allowing them to keep the minerals that they harvest in space, essentially giving the US the go-ahead for a resource grab in space. The bill also gives space companies like Space X freedom from regulation until 2023 so that they can develop technology without the hindrance of oversight.
Some people worry that this sort of wild west philosophy could cause more problems than it solves. For instance, if the US can go anywhere and take anything it wants from space, what happens when every other space exploring country decides to join in? The contamination and possible destruction could harm scientific research and, given the history of pollution from country’s like the US and China, could seriously harm the space environment.
For better or worse, the law is in place now and only time will tell if the open door to exploration and resource gathering will be a good or bad thing. Nor is it clear whether space companies will expand in a way that is both safe for people and the space environment without any regulatory oversight. One thing is for sure – the space race has reached a new frontier.