From Popular Mechanics
Users who downloaded SpaceX’s new Starlink app noticed something fishy this week: The software’s terms of service claim there’s no law in place that will govern life on Mars, or just off of Earth at all. We’re not lawyers … but is that something Elon Musk and SpaceX can even enforce?
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SpaceX’s terms are, at the very least, ignoring the international laws of space set forth beginning nearly 60 years ago. Musk recently made news when he said “many” people will die on Mars, but no one imagined it would be in a lawless, PUBG-style low-gravity battle royale. Then again, Mars is named for the God of War.
reports on the statement in question:
“‘For services provided on Mars, or in transit to Mars via Starship or other colonisation spacecraft, the parties recognise Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities,’ the governing law section states.”
This is purely wishful thinking, because the discussion of who can and will do what in outer space has been the subject of major treaties for the last six decades. The idea that you can just travel into space and turn it into Lord of the Flies reinforces grim stereotypes about the imperialist attitude of space “colonization.”
The Independent cites the Earthlight Foundation’s declaration on space freedom as similar to SpaceX’s language for the Starlink app. Interestingly, the declaration appears only in an image file and doesn’t have a searchable (or accessible) text version. It begins:
“It is the Inalienable Right of all Human (and sentient) beings to go any place in the universe; To do anything they choose to do, To use any resources they may find, To own the land or space on or within which they live.”
Earthlight goes on to say that as long as people don’t interfere with each other’s property, the foundation believes space is “free by all, for all, and to all.” Unlike the international outer space treaties, the Earthlight Foundation dates back to just 2012.
What it’s describing isn’t freedom, though—at least not for everyone. It’s just colonization.
Elon Musk plans to get to Mars first, and that means he can quickly establish a fiefdom where he makes his own rules by a first-come, first-serve system. Instead, the outer space treaties establish clear rules about weapons and natural resources to try to preserve at least a semblance of order for anyone who does wish to explore space. When the treaties began, the pie-like dividing of Antarctica among international groups was still fresh in the public’s mind.
So what are the downsides of a lawless or corporate-ruled Mars? In Michel Faber’s 2012 novel The Book of Strange New Things, a corporate colony far from Earth still has very rigid rules because of the tenuous nature of life in outer space. Musk’s lawless terms might sound “free,” but will still necessarily be subject to limits on resources, daily routines, and more, because otherwise, the entire settlement just won’t survive. Life in a new town on Mars will require a great deal of discipline to live with ever-present and major dangers.
Maybe what Musk imagines is something more militaristic. Maybe he’ll immediately declare himself president of Mars. But when the rubber hits the road, it seems unlikely he’d do very much to upset the people on Earth—who will still have to greenlight his supply ships.
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