Earlier this week, Elon Musk laid out his insanely ambitious plan to colonize Mars within the next 50-100 years.
But … it might not actually be entirely legal. At least not yet. Joanne Gabrynowicz, director of the International Institute of Space Law, told Gizmodo the legalities behind SpaceX’s plan to colonize Mars could get very complicated before Musk launches his Battlestar Galactica-style fleet of colonists. Gabrynowicz said the specifics start to “get fuzzy” once you talk about leaving the confines of Earth and heading out into the solar system.
As it stands now, companies that want to do business in space fall under the FAA or the Department of State. Google LunarX-Prize contestant Moon Express is gearing up for a lunar rover mission, which had to jump through those hoops. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 will also come into play in a big way, and could arguably be the biggest hurdle. The treaty prohibits “harmful contamination of celestial bodies,” and prohibits any group from appropriating territory in space.
Put simply: SpaceX would be a squatter by building a base on Mars, since they don’t technically have a right to the land.
That’s not to say SpaceX can’t overcome all those hurdles by working through the proper channels with government over the next few decades, but as it stands, there are a lot of legal conundrums with the proposal.
That doesn’t even get into the ethical and legal questions for what types of laws these space colonists will fall under. Though, not surprisingly, Musk also has some ideas on how to handle that as well.