Moon for Sale?


Moon landings in the future might bring commercial developments into space. Okay, land on the Moon is not literally for sale, but it looks like Nevada-based company, Bigelow Aerospace might be building inflatable habitats there anyways.

American hotel and aerospace entrepreneur, Robert Bigelow, has submitted plans to NASA for a $12 billion base to be put on the Moon sometime in the 2020s. Bigelow’s ideas for the base (or bases) include allowing people to take trips to the Moon not only for scientific research, business, and government work, but also for vacation.
The 1967 Outer Space Treaty made it clear that the Moon “is not subject to national appropriation.” However, the treaty failed to include anything about exploitation. Because Bigelow is also looking to set up mining on the base, this allows him through a loophole. Think of it this way, no one owns a mountain range; it is not appropriated. However, it can be legally exploited for the material found in it.

So, the Moon is not for sale, but with the exploitation loophole, it seems like it might as well be. Bigelow Aerospace, a space technology startup company is invested in this venture. Bigelow himself plans to contribute $300 million of his own money too. Sometime ago the company applied to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a permit to allow its future plans. As of February, 4th 2015 the FAA is “prepared to support Bigelow Aerospace’s trailblazing initiative.”

So if Bigelow is able to build his mines, what it up there for the mining anyway? Right now it is unclear, but speculations have been made about using ³He (which is an isotope of helium) for fuel in future fusion reactors. Some, have looked at the ice poles on the Moon as additional business opportunities, perhaps as a source for hydrogen and oxygen based rocket fuel. It kind of looks like entrepreneurs are picturing the Moon as the giant gas station on the way to further destinations in outer space.

Bigelow Aerospace is striding forward, but it does not have the all-clear signal yet. It is more of a “payload review” and a test of the waters for future license requests. Many people are likening this soon-to-be expanse into space to the founding of America, or the move into the Wild West. This is new territory. Since we have a great deal of regulation nowadays, and a number of countries are involved, there is going to be a whole lot of world-wide paperwork before inflatable Lunar structures become a reality. Nonetheless, Bigelow Aerospace is apparently going to be testing one of its structure inside the International Space Station later in 2015.

Nothing is for sale on the Moon right now, but in 20 years maybe the inflatable bases will be functional. If people who can afford the trip start taking vacations there, who knows what kinds of businesses will start appearing? The final frontier is finally off of the television screen and out on the doorstep. What precisely will happen with the moon is yet to be determined, but for companies like Bigelow Aerospace, the only way up.

By Emilee Prado

NBC News
The Economist

Photo by Ingrid Taylar – Flickr