Let me preface this by saying I am not a thrill-seeker. Sure, I’ll go on a zip line over a canyon— only because I know I am securely strapped in. But I’ll never lean too far over the edge of a railing lest I go just one inch too far. I don’t like taking unnecessary risks.
The notion of outer space has always made me nervous. This massive, seemingly never-ending area filled with constantly exploding stars and mysterious uninhabitable planets is an area full of unknown. This doesn’t sit well with me. Even writing this, my heart is racing, and my palms are sweaty. I like facts and identifiable boundaries. Part of what makes space so scary to me is that no one really knows what’s out there. Yes, we have pictures from telescopes and video footage of people walking on the moon, but we don’t know what it’s like on the frontier of space. However, just because I, myself, am not a fan of space, that doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t be allowed to explore it.
The “final frontier” is a concept I admire from afar. I applaud the efforts of the 1960s Space Race that landed us on the moon, as well as the modern efforts of Elon Musk and SpaceX attempting to get us to Mars. In fact, I am excited to see what discoveries will emerge from our missions into space. But you will never catch me volunteering myself for a space flight. I am not the only person with a fear of space; according to a poll conducted by the satellite company Inmarsat, 97 percent of the 20,000 surveyed confirmed that they do have a fear of space. So what’s the way to combat this widespread fear of space, and for people like myself, the fear of the unknown? Exploration.
But it’s easier said than done. According to The Outer Space Treaty, “there is no claim for sovereignty in space; no nation can ‘own’ space, the Moon or any other body.” This lack of possibility for ownership of space could be extremely harmful. Just like any other area on Earth where one nation cannot make a claim to it — like the atmosphere or oceans — the area is predisposed to be overused to the point of depletion. If no government is regulating how the resources of a given area are used, then the resources are bound to be over harvested and overexploited. Space is no exception, and the depletion has already begun: according to NASA, approximately 23,000 pieces of space debris, natural meteoroid or human-made debris circulating in space, larger than a softball — which is large enough to damage a satellite or spacecraft — are traveling at speeds up to 17,500 mph in space. The lack of governmental regulation of space is leading to the pollution of space, another example of the phenomenon of “The Tragedy of the Commons.” If governments don’t continue colonizing space of their own accord, then individuals should be allowed to make efforts themselves. Take, for example, the work of Elon Musk. Musk is creating and testing a Starship system for moon landings and hopes to eventually land crewed missions on Mars. The work of Musk is revamping space travel and reigniting a fire for space exploration that the world has been lacking for decades.
Additionally, The Outer Space Treaty — a treaty signed by 110 countries around the world that entered into force on Oct. 10, 1967 — specifies that although governments cannot claim areas of space as their own, non-governmental or governmental organizations can partake in space ventures, but the government still “retains jurisdiction and control” over spacecrafts and “any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body.” Essentially, this means that although no one government cannot make territorial claims on any area of space, the government can regulate the activities of their citizens there. This clause makes no logical sense. Think of space as another country. If a U.S. citizen migrates to France and becomes a French citizen, then the U.S. government does not retain control over that person— they become part of the French jurisdiction. So why should this apply to space?
Furthermore, allowing for ownership of areas of space would open up ample economic opportunities. Planetary Resources, Kepler Energy and Deep Space Industries are companies that have developed in recent years. They are devoted to mining the useful mineral resources in asteroids. In 2015, the United States passed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act; this act essentially states that if an American citizen can obtain materials from an asteroid, they effectively own it, and thus they are free to sell it. This act should apply to all aspects of space, including planets. Especially if people like Elon Musk want to continue their mission to colonize Mars, the extension of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act would allow for people to really colonize and use the territory to their advantage.
If The Outer Space Treaty was dissolved, nations would be allowed to make claims to areas of space and regulate its use. However, this will most likely not happen — instead, people should be allowed to make claims to areas of space and own it. As long as those people have the means to defend the land they claim, then it’s their moral responsibility to take care of it.
The year is 4022. Tesla rovers can be found roaming the suburbs on Mars, making their way through the neighborhoods and streets, stopping at North-planet mall. People pay for their comet-books and other items with star bucks, all whilst war rages light years away on the dark side of the Moon as a consequence of territory battles over land.
This alternate universe may seem preposterous or even akin to a science fiction novel, and that is because it is. Humans living in space is pure science fiction as we presently do not have the technology or advancements to accomplish this feat. Additionally, people claiming land in space could possibly lead to the outcomes of human growth or conflict seen above, which is simply speculation based on patterns of the human condition.
Even though the possibility of a human settlement in space could still be centuries away — and still might not ever happen — there are already limitations in place to avoid a future such as the one above.
Talk surrounding the notion of preserving space for peaceful use began as early as the 1950s at the United Nations, and later the United States and the Soviet Union both proposed separate drafts of an outer space treaty in 1966.
The Outer Space Treaty was then open for signature in 1967 after being mutually agreed upon between the UN General Assembly. The treaty details that there is no claim allowed for sovereignty in space, and that no nation can “own” space, the Moon or any other celestial body, among other things. As of February 2022, 112 nations are parties to the treaty, and 23 others have signed but have not ratified it yet.
But even with this treaty and a few others like it, SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk still has a vision to colonize and claim Mars, even though Musk agrees with certainty that living on Mars would be a dangerous, cramped and a difficult feat to accomplish.
And yet, Musk’s ambitions are still firm as he has goals of building a full-sized and self-sustaining city on Mars, effectively making humans an interplanetary species. During the U.S. Air Force Day event in California in 2019, Musk said that SpaceX will need to build and fly about 1,000 Starships holding cargo, infrastructure and crew over the course of 20 years to begin building his envisioned city. He has also pegged the project to cost somewhere between $100 billion and $10 trillion.
The most vocal argument for the colonization of Mars or the claiming of space is to prolong the human race in case the Earth ever becomes inhabitable in the future,or to make Mars a glorified backup plan. As of right now — even considering all current technology and innovations — humans are not developed enough to create a sustainable colony on any celestial body.
Every single facet of the Earth is something that humans and other species have evolved around. So, to go to another planet or celestial entity where the climate and environment are not suited for humans is simply not a feasible option.
The combination of a lack of gravitational force in space, infections that could go without proper care, harsh radiation exposure, depression or other mental health issues due to a lack of fresh air and human contact, are all prevalent concerns that would make it extremely difficult for human inhabitants in space to be a reality.
While I agree that space exploration and research are great achievements that should be continued, humans should not be looking outside of the Earth at this time to claim or begin projects on Mars or elsewhere in space. Instead, we should move to progress the planet that we live on and focus on saving our planet while we can as issues of global warming, pollution, deforestation and natural resource depletion riddle our Earth.
These problems that humans have caused on our home planet are the first reason why we should not go looking for another planet or celestial body to repeat the process. If some are looking outward thinking about the possibility of transforming completely inhabitable planets into human homes, why not look internally at the planet we live on and forgo a future where Earth becomes inhabitable altogether?