January 22, 2014 8:41 pm

Announcing Our New StarTalk Radio Survey: Who Owns Space?

Image of astronaut claiming asteroid for StarTalk survey, Who Owns Space? Image Credit: JuanDarien/iStock.

Image Credit: JuanDarien/iStock.

Who owns space? Can a corporation claim an asteroid? Can a country establish a national park on the Moon? If your satellite crashes into my space station, can I sue?

The idea for our newest survey started last Spring, when we asked you for questions about asteroids for our episode, Cosmic Queries: Asteroids, Comets and Meteor Storms. A few of you asked about who owns asteroids and who has the right to their mineral wealth. We’d also just done a show with Peter Diamandis of Planetary Resources, called Eureka! Asteroid Mining, where Peter and Neil deGrasse Tyson discussed the relationship between government and private industry in the exploration – and exploitation – of space, especially when it came to mining asteroids.

A few months later we posted an article on Facebook and our other social media channels about the bill that was introduced in the US Congress to establish the Apollo Lunar Landing Sites National Historical Park on the Moon. Many of you raised questions as to whether the US had the right to claim part of the Moon as a National Park.

Most recently, I watched the movie, Gravity, where (Spoiler Alert!) Russia’s destruction of one of its own satellites sets off a chain reaction, creating an orbital debris field that eventually destroys other satellites, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, the Chinese Tiangong Space Station and who knows what else. Among the questions swirling in my brain after the movie was this: could everyone sue Russia for all that damage? Would NASA get full replacement value for the aging Hubble, or just the blue book value? (When Sandy knocked a tree over on my car, I got blue book value, but I imagine corporations and countries have better lawyers and insurance than I do.)

The annoying thing about each of these questions is that nobody really knows the answers to them, yet. The courts haven’t decided the matter. And for that matter, which courts? If Congress wants to declare a National Park on the Moon, what authority has the right to say we couldn’t? If the UN said no, would we even listen? Would the International Court of Justice (aka the World Court) in The Hague decide whether the Russians had to pay for the damage their satellite caused – if the events in Gravity were real, that is?

With no presiding authority to turn to, we turn to you, our audience, to tell us what you think. After all, there is often wisdom in crowds, and as crowds go, our audience tends to be on the smarter end of the scales. (Although I still think Star Trek was better than Firefly. There, I said it.)

We’re going to ask a different question each week. You can vote once per question. We’re also allowing you to choose “Other” and then write in your own answer in the comments at the bottom of the survey. And by the way: if you see an answer you like in the comments section, please let us know that, too. We’ll put the responses up right here on the blog next week, as well as publishing them in our newsletter.

This week’s question is, “Who Owns an Asteroid?” You can take the survey here.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!

–Jeffrey Simons