Re: SPACE: Property Claims and Lunar Water Mining

GBurch1 (
Sat, 7 Mar 1998 08:03:40 EST

In a message dated 98-03-04 22:16:55 EST, Michael Lorrey wrote:

> GBurch1 wrote:

>> the U S. has formally ratified the UNOST.
> It is my understanding that while we may have signed it, the Senate never
> ratified it. Signing it doesn't mean jack.

(I've been tearing my few remaining hairs out over this all week, my near-
terminal Male Answer Syndrome inflamed by the prospect of having to admit I
was wrong about the U.S.' endorsement of the UNOST. Well, I thought I was
wrong once, but fortunately I was mistaken on that occasion :-)

A narrative regarding the UNOST can be found at the U.S. Arms Control and
Disarmament Agency:

On June 16, 1966, both the United States and the Soviet
Union submitted draft treaties. The U.S. draft dealt only
with celestial bodies; the Soviet draft covered the whole
outer space environment. The United States accepted the
Soviet position on the scope of the Treaty, and by
September agreement had been reached in discussions at
Geneva on most Treaty provisions.

Differences on the few remaining issues -- chiefly involving
access to facilities on celestial bodies, reporting on space
activities, and the use of military equipment and personnel
in space exploration -- were satisfactorily resolved in private
consultations during the General Assembly session by December.

On the 19th of that month the General Assembly approved
by acclamation a resolution commending the Treaty. It was
opened for signature at Washington, London, and Moscow
on January 27, 1967. On April 25 the Senate gave unanimous
consent to its ratification, and the Treaty entered into force
on October 10, 1967.

The official U.S. text of the treaty, including verification of Senate
ratification can be found at:

Now that we have THAT cleared up, the timing of this discussion couldn't be
more apt, with the announcement by the Lunar Prospector team this week of
confirmation of ice deposits at the moon's poles. Although most on this list
would probably agree that asteroid resources will be more important in the
long-term, the lunar ice deposits may well be the most valuable
extraterrestrial real estate in the near term.

I'm sure all of the spacegeeks on the list like me have been busily designing
ice extractors since the announcement. An automated system for extracting and
caching lunar ice is well within the means of current technology: I envision a
simple wheeled rover with a front-loader attachment that feeds an automated
oven/still for boiling off the H2O. Inflatable storage devices would do until
something more stout could be installed. Even at the 1% concentrations the LP
team is talking about, thousands of gallons could be extracted and stored in
fairly short order. Automated tankers could haul the water to sites of
greater interest than the cold, dark poles, such as a farside radio telescope
installation or a nearside regolith mining facility.

A real problem with any such projects, though, will be the nuclear nuts'
ravings about plutonium RTGs. By definition, solar power won't be available
for any of this work, and so RTGs and, for the real work, genuine power
reactors, will be the only viable power sources. Get ready for another fight
with the nukenuts.

The first step, though, is staking a claim that would entice investment in the
water mining endeavor. Assuming the claim regime I mentioned here last
weekend, someone needs to get a lander down to the poles muy pronto. Although
it's been 22 years since anyone's done a rocket-braked terminal phase lander,
imagine how cheaply and reliably a Surveyor-class lander could be built and
flown with today's control and fabrication technology. I'd be more than
willing to bet that it could be done for $250 million or thereabouts and in
two years or so. Such a vehicle would be doing valuable science, since we
need an on-site assay. If a fire gets lit on such a project in the next
couple of years, we'll know that all the talk about "private space
development" is more than just talk.

Greg Burch <>----<>
Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
-- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover