Frans von der Dunk is a Dutchman and a professor of Space Law and he is writing space laws for the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He is also starring in a documentary on space law by Dutch broadcasting oganization VPRO. Co-starring in this programme is America's Space Act, the first of its kind, which says no-one can claim extraterrestrial real estate as their property, but they do get to keep resources that they dig up on celestial bodies.
We wrote about this Act when it was approved by Congress in May. In the meantime president Obama signed it into law. While many countries and space organizations aren't very happy that the USA is going it alone in this respect, the documentary offers the view that now at least American companies can start executing their plans without fear of wasting their investor's money in court. Since most space mining initiatives are American, this means things can start happening, and that's important.
In the documentary we also find out that the UAE intend to invest some of their oil money in space, hoping they can sell resources from outer space when the oil runs out.
It's a very interesting programme. You learn about the importance of space law, you get to know some visionaries in the field such as Deep Space Industries' Rick Tumlinson, and you get an inside view of the hectic life of a space lawyer.
It's laudable that VPRO has not stopped there. They also organized a debate a couple weeks later, recorded the whole thing on video and uploaded it to Vimeo (below). The video lasts more than two hours (they even included the break) and you would be well advised to fast-forward to 1 hr 17 mns when the second part begins. Here, ESA's science advisor Mark McCaughrean gives the ideas of visionaries such as Mr. Tumlinson a tough reality check.
He says arranging for some space laws, difficult as that is, may be the easiest part of space mining and colonizing space. Rockets have not become significantly better in 50 years and there are plenty more hurdles. In space it's hard enough to do basic research and inspire a next generation. 'Why would anyone want to go to Mars? Backing up the human race?' How about undoing climate change, asks McCaughrean. It's more urgent and fixable. It's next to immoral to run away from that problem. 'You can go to Mars as an experiment but other than that, Mars can wait.'
Another interesting speaker is our very own Robbert Mica, who among others is involved in Vandersat through ATG's Fast Forward programme. Mica applauds all initiatives but says he doesn't mind staying on Earth himself since there's plenty to do here, such as taking care of climate change, preventing and cleaning up space debris, making good use of remote moisture measurements and providing real time satellite photography.