Space Exploration and Exploitation

What kind of seed will we take from Earth?

By Bruce Gagnon

In our present age we often hear the name of Christopher Columbus used to describe the current stage of space exploration. NASA and other promoters of space travel regularly use the Columbus mythology to create a sense of excitement and high adventure about the challenge of space.

But behind the excitement of adventure, just as in the time of Columbus, lies the hidden layer of exploitation. Like Queen Isabella of Spain, who paid for the Columbus trip in hopes of greater economic rewards, there are forces in our world today lining up to harvest the benefits from the exploitation of the outer reaches.

One such force is the organization called the United Societies in Space. Declan O’Donnell, a director, has stated, "We are the Fifth Force in nature. Our society turned loose in the universe…will represent a new natural force. Our mansions can be built with a new source of financing, priming the pump for private enterprise."

In his book Mining the Sky: Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets, and Planets, NASA scientist John S. Lewis paints a picture of enormous profits to be made by the nation that controls the territory on the Moon, Mars, or other planetary bodies. These planetary bodies, he maintains, contain the untapped resources and riches of the future. Lewis, going beyond the Columbus mythology says, "…The global expansion of European technology and civilization brought about by the terrestrial age of exploration is but a pale foreshadowing of the opportunities before us as humans move out into space."


A January 1995, New York Times op-ed piece by science writer Lawrence Joseph entitled Who Will Mine the Moon?, introduces us to the rare gas called helium 3 and asks the telling question "Will the Moon become the Persian Gulf of the 21st Century?" Mr. Joseph raises the call to arms with his conclusion, "If we ignore the potential of this remarkable fuel, the nation could slip behind in the race for control of the global economy, and our destiny beyond."

Numerous voices, at NASA and from private industry, are now calling for immediate action. David Gump, president of LunaCorp, recently made the case in a Space News piece when he said, "Commercial activities should be building blocks of the first lunar base, rather than afterthoughts. Discovery of the fabulously valuable buried ice fields at the Moon’s poles has dramatically increased the value of a lunar base, and the logic of a primary role for free enterprise."

Much of the ground work for space exploitation is now being laid. The surface of the Moon has already been mapped by the Clemintine mission (which also tested Star Wars sensors at the same time). Lunar rovers are soon expected to drill for samples of lunar ice at the Moon’s north pole.

NASA’s current series of missions to Mars are undertaking similar efforts. The Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft is now beginning a year-long mapping mission. Other landers in 2001 and 2003 will begin doing soil identification and sampling. If all goes as planned, a Mars Sample Return mission will bring back approximately 300 grams of soil and rock to Earth in 2008.

Potential dangers do exist though. Barry DiGregorio, author and founder of the International Committee Against Mars Sample Return, has written that "…any Martian samples returned to Earth must be treated as biohazardous material until proven otherwise." At the present time NASA has taken no action to create a special facility to handle space sample returns. On March 6, 1997 a report issued by the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council recommended that such a facility should be operational at least two years prior to launch of a Mars Sample Return mission. Reminding us of the Spanish exploration of the Americas, and the smallpox virus they carried that killed thousands of indigenous people, DiGregorio warns that the Mars samples could "contain pathogenic viruses or bacteria."

There are vast deposits of mineral resources like magnesium and cobalt believed to be on Mars. In June of 1997, NASA announced plans for manned mining colonies on Mars, expected around 2007-2009. The mining colonies, NASA says, would be powered by nuclear reactors launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.


Nuclear power has become the power source of choice for NASA. Not only has NASA, and the Department of Energy (DoE), been promoting the use of nuclear power for on-board generators for deep space missions, but there is growing evidence that the space exploration and exploitation "adventure" will soon be awash in nuclear materials.

According to Marshall Savage, the founder of the First Millennial Foundation (a pro-space colonization organization), "We really can’t mess up the Moon, either by mining it or building nuclear power plants. We can ruthlessly strip mine the surface of the Moon for centuries and it will be hard to tell we’ve even been there. There is no reason why we cannot build nuclear power plants on the Moon’s surface with impunity. Equipped with limitless nuclear, the lunar civilization will be capable of prodigious rates of economic growth." One cannot help but wonder what would happen to the poor Moon miner who becomes contaminated by radioactive dust after removing his irradiated space suit inside the lunar habitat.

There is a growing call as well for the nuclear rocket to Mars. Already work is underway on the project at Los Alamos Labs in New Mexico and at the University of Florida Nuclear Engineering Department. In his Space News op-ed called Nuclear Propulsion to Mars, aerospace industry engineer Robert Kleinberger states that the nuclear rocket "could be used for defending U.S. space systems, reboosting the International Space Station, returning to the Moon for exploration or mining, and for exploring and opening the inner solar system to scientific research. The nuclear vehicle could even assist in the eventual colonization of Mars."

In fact, there is such a growing demand for plutonium for "space projects" that the DoE is now undertaking an internal review of its production process. The DoE is considering re-opening plutonium processing lines at such facilities as Hanford in Washington state, a site that has created enormous contamination during its years of bomb making.


One of the current obstacles to NASA and corporate plans for exploitation of the Moon and Mars is the existence of United Nations (U.N.) laws like the Moon Treaty. Much of the Moon Treaty reiterates earlier and internationally accepted "space law," particularly the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. In that treaty, in Article 11, the U.N. states that "the Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind."

Former Apollo astronaut Harrison Schmitt, a key proponent of Moon mining for helium 3, has called the Moon Treaty "Not a wise idea". He wrote in a July 1998, Space News article that "the mandate of an international regime would complicate private commercial efforts and give other countries political control over the permissibility, timing and management of all private commercial activities."

Efforts are now underway at several levels to rid the world of pesky and restricting international law that would hamper corporate access and control of "untold riches" in space. Lawrence D. Roberts, a member of the National Space Society Policy Committee wrote in that organization’s magazine, Ad Astra, in 1997 that "If the Outer Space Treaty is to be adhered to, and the international fallout from a new standard is to be minimized, some kind of international approach is needed. By limiting the number of states involved in the process, the prospects for a rapid agreement are dramatically improved…. It may even be possible to accelerate the timetable by promoting federal legislation that sets the standards for property claims in advance of any international agreement."


Just as Queen Isabella sent in the Spanish Armada to protect the new found territory and resources of the New World, so too is the U.S. moving in a similar way.

The Pentagon, through the U.S. Space Command, is working hard to ensure that the space corridor will remain open and free for private corporate interests. Weapon systems such as nuclear powered lasers and anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons are now being funded, researched, and tested in the U.S. It will only be a matter of time until deployment of space based weapons will follow. In the Space Command’s document, Vision for 2020, they state that "Historically, military forces have evolved to protect national interests and investments – both military and economic. During the rise of sea commerce, nations built navies to protect and enhance their commercial interests. …The control of space will encompass protecting U.S. military, civil and commercial investments in space…. Control of space is the ability to assure access to space, freedom of operations within the space medium, and an ability to deny others the use of space, if required." A parallel, military highway will be created between the Earth and the planets beyond. Documents commissioned by the U.S. Congress suggest that U.S. military bases on the Moon will enable the U.S. to control access to and from the planet Earth. The logo of the U.S. Space Command is "Master of Space."

We are now poised to take the bad seed of greed, environmental exploitation and war into space. Having shown such enormous disregard for our own planet Earth, the so-called "visionaries" and "explorers" are now ready to rape and pillage the heavens. Countless launches of nuclear materials, using rockets that regularly blow up on the launch pad, will seriously jeopardize life on Earth. Returning potentially bacteria-laden space materials back to Earth, without any real plans for containment and monitoring, could create new epidemics for us. The possibility of an expanding nuclear-powered arms race in space will certainly have serious ecological and political ramifications as well. The effort to deny years of consensus around international space law will create new global conflicts and confrontations.

Now is the time for all who care about peaceful and scientific space exploration to learn more about these issues and to begin organizing to prevent this insanity before it happens. An international debate must be created about the kind of seed we from Earth will carry with us as we explore space. Let this historic debate begin now.

Bruce K. Gagnon

The contents herein are Copyright 1999, Global Network/Bruce Gagnon, the article may be reproduced for non-profit purposes as long as the source is recognised, otherwise reproduction can be arranged through the Global Network.

Home Page