By Fisher Smith, NSS Legal Fellow
Why should we spend the money, effort and time focusing on outer space exploration and development? After all, it’s a very expensive process to get resources, people and infrastructure into space. Wouldn’t that money be better spent elsewhere? As it turns out the money and time we spend developing outer space can create substantial benefits for our terrestrial world, benefits that we can’t get here on Earth, and I believe that will more than offset the cost of space development.
The world we live in is shaped by a number of forces. In the last few decades, we’ve become more technologically advanced through the advent of computer technology, and that technology has become the basis of our interactions with society (especially so during COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines). As technology advances, the materials (such as rare-earth elements) that we need to build and maintain that technology become more heavily used. Tensions between the major political powers on the Earth continue to rise as competition over these resources, namely energy-generating resources and rare minerals, continue to shape international conflict. Each of these areas shape our world, and each presents a problem. In many ways, they each share a solution: expansion into outer space.
We can solve the problem of limited resources connected to our technological advances by sourcing materials from beyond the Earth. Our planet is formed from the same stellar material as every other celestial body in our solar system. That means that many of the same resources found here on Earth can be found elsewhere in the solar system, in some cases in far richer ores. The National Space Society (NSS) notes that near-Earth asteroids are prime targets for resource mining efforts. From these asteroids, we can recover and transport the raw materials we require on Earth; and we can refine them in space too. By obtaining and then processing resources in outer space, we could almost completely remove the environmental impact of such activities on the planet we live on. Not only would outer space development ensure that supplies of vital minerals continue, but it would also correct some of the environmental strain caused by humanity on our planet.
The above discussion demonstrates outer space’s potential to ameliorate international political strife caused by energy and mineral resource scarcity. The goal of a government is to protect the interests of itself and its citizens. As nations accumulate power and resources, they use them to gain more power, resources and stability. As more nations seek access to the same, limited resources, conflicts arise. Outer space provides an outlet for these interests. If we turn our attention to space, we can secure access to potentially infinite resources.
NSS suggests that geosynchronous orbit can house solar stations capable of capturing immense amounts of the sun’s thermal energy. This can supply a significant part of the energy requirements of the globe, if we can find an economically viable means to get it to Earth. Alternatively, such ample energy could power spaceships or other outer space infrastructure to enable growth and expansion in space.
As for transportation on Earth, the advent of electric engines and more efficient batteries could provide the turning point away from gasoline, but resources to develop and mass produce electric vehicles are hard to find on Earth. By utilizing the resources available in the near-Earth asteroids, production of electric vehicles can increase dramatically, thereby reducing the need for oil in the transportation infrastructures of nations across the globe. Not only can outer space make our world cleaner and ensure that life on our planet continues to function, but it can also make the world a safer, more cooperative place.
I asked “Why should we go to space?” and the answer is that by turning to space we can make the Earth change and improve for the better. In short, by supporting human expansion into outer space, we will be supporting life here on Earth. Learn more about how we can successfully and sustainably harness the resources of space to support our lives on Earth in the NSS Position Paper on U.S. Development and Settlement of the Moon and Near Earth Asteroids.
About NSS Legal Fellow Fisher Smith
Fisher Smith is a second year law student at the University of Mississippi where he is currently part of the Space Law concentration program. Additionally, he is part of the Ole Miss Trial Advocacy Board and a junior staff editor on the Air and Space Law Journal at the university. Since he was a child, Fisher has always been interested in science and outer space. Whether the thrilling adventures of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, the exploration of the cosmos by Captain Kirk in Star Trek, or the boundless possibilities created in Isaac Asimov’s stories, outer space has been a world of wonder for Fisher. Throughout his undergraduate studies at Rhodes College, Fisher focused his Political Science and International Studies interests towards outer space policies. These research interests showed him that by cooperating as a multinational community, humanity can harness outer space to improve conditions here on Earth. This interest in outer space possibilities led him to the Air and Space Law Society at Ole Miss, and he hopes to use these motivations to aid the NSS mission.