Apr 7, 2020 - Science

One step closer to mining the moon

View of the moon from space
Photo: NASA

On Monday, President Trump signed an executive order to shore up international support for mining the Moon or other bodies in the solar system.

Why it matters: The executive order affirms NASA's hopes to one day mine the Moon for water, which can then be converted into rocket fuel, and establish a long-term presence on the lunar surface sometime after its Artemis mission in 2024.

  • The order also further opens the door for commercial companies that hope to one day mine the Moon and other bodies in the solar system for resources of their own.

Details: The executive order directs the State Department to find international partners that are interested in collaborating with the U.S. on creating "sustainable operations" related to commercial use of space-based resources.

  • "Last year, the U.S. and Luxembourg signed an agreement to support utilizing space resources consistent with international law," space industry analyst Laura Seward Forczyk told Axios. "Today’s executive order broadens that policy position to all international space players."
  • The order also affirms America's commitment to the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty, which prevents nations from laying claim to celestial bodies but doesn't forbid companies and countries from using any resources they harvest in space.
"Providing private operators legal certainty in space resources utilization activities will require international consultation. This action is a step towards that process, and will support active U.S. leadership in bilateral and multilateral efforts to resolve legal uncertainties around space resources utilization."
— Ian Christensen, of the Secure World Foundation, told Axios via email

But, but, but: Scientists still aren't sure how much water exists below the surface of the Moon or what form it's in.

  • NASA's Lunar Viper rover, expected to launch to the Moon in 2023, will help characterize and map that water ahead of the Artemis missions.

Go deeper ... Deep Dive: Factory Moon

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