The United States Congress has claimed mining rights in outer space. In a rare act of bipartisan cooperation, the government is rapidly advancing a bill that would grant “space resource rights” for water and mineral deposits on other planets. The bill needs to pass another review in the House before it reaches the President’s desk. If it becomes law, it will set an historic precedent for space law that directly challenges an existing international treaty. Will the U.S. be allowed to grab outer space mining rights?

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Years before a human sets foot on Mars, Congress is attempting to outline parameters for future space exploration, encompassed in the Space Act of 2015. The grab for space mining rights is just one item in the bill, in addition to provisions that encourage commercial companies that want to explore space and exploit its resources. The bill also grants “asteroid resource” and “space resource” rights to U.S. citizens who managed to acquire the resource themselves, acknowledging the incredible advancements in civilian-backed space ventures, like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the James Cameron-backed Planetary Sciences.

Related: NASA finds flowing water and potential for microscopic forms of life on Mars

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It’s not news that Congress has a tough time reaching across the aisle to agree on anything, so this rare moment of bipartisan cooperation is particularly noteworthy. But converting this bill into U.S. law doesn’t mean American interests will actually retain the rights they are grabbing for, considering that the bill appears to violate an existing international treaty barring sovereign claims in space. The 1967 international treaty known as the Outer Space Treaty, which the U.S. signed. The treaty says no “celestial body” is subject to “national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

This development comes as NASA is putting new systems in place to further study mineral veins on Mars in an attempt to ascertain their make up. To be clear, Congress has outlined a grab for mining rights to water and mineral, but not life. That is, the U.S. government hasn’t (yet?) attempted to stake a claim on any living things that might be discovered on a distant planet.

Via The Guardian

Images via NASA/JPL