Although this may sound like sci-fiction, Elon Musk’s company has emphasized its intentions to do that in two recent posts.
SpaceX’s Plans to Settle on Mars
In a wide-ranging Law360 interview with SpaceX general counsel David Anderman, he revealed he is creating a constitution for Mars. The intentions are also stated in the terms of service for Starlink, shared by Reddit users after they received a public beta test invitation.
However, Frans von der Dunk, a leading expert of space law at Nebraska College of Law, explained: “You can come up with many interesting examples where you have people trying to call themselves a state and not being recognized.”
Still, he thinks the world should take Elon Musk seriously and use the moment to deal with potential legal difficulties of this future before they’re made real.
“We never know if it’s going to work or when it’s going to work,” von der Dunk said of SpaceX’s intentions on the Martian settlement. “But this is certainly a serious company with serious backing and serious engineering behind it.”
Musk has talked for years about his intention to populate Mars with over one million people. Although he wants to develop cities, the SpaceX CEO’s ultimate aim is to enable human life on the Red Planet, ideally to protect our species from some vague future catastrophe.
Therefore, SpaceX has expanded its buildings in South Texas to create and test Starship, an almost 400-foot-tall (120-meter-tall) completely reusable launch system.
Shipping People En Masse to Mars
“Our goal is to be able to send 1,000 starships with 100 people in them every two years,” Anderman said in the interview, which was published on October 14th. “We’ll start with 100, then a couple hundred, then 100,000, then a million until we have a truly sustainable colony. It will happen in my lifetime. Faster than you think.”
Following the interview, numerous Reddit users posted the terms of service for Starlink. In a segment about which laws would apply to the use of Starlink, the document stated:
“For Services provided on Mars, or in transit to Mars via Starship or other colonization spacecraft, the parties recognize Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities. Accordingly, Disputes will be settled through self-governing principles, established in good faith, at the time of Martian settlement.”
This means that SpaceX has stated its diplomatic intentions to make its Martians rule themselves. However, von der Dunk says the firm won’t make it without a massive effort on Earth.
The U.S. is Responsible for SpaceX’s Mars Settlement
The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 says that people who leave Earth maintain their national identities.
“If [SpaceX] succeeds in building settlements, [Musk] and the people living there, certainly if they are Americans, will still be falling under the U.S. jurisdiction,” von der Dunk said. “Not because it’s U.S. territory, but because they are U.S. citizens.”
Also, Article 6 and Article 7 of the treaty clearly state that a country has the legal responsibility for its space activities, irrelevant to who launches or performs them.
“Imagine if [SpaceX does] something that other states could claim are a violation of international law,” von der Dunk said. “They don’t need to try and sue SpaceX before a U.S. court in a private capacity; they can directly accost the U.S. government.”
Von der Dunk also mentioned that international law revolves around three aspects: established territory, permanent settlers, and an operating government. Any possible Mars settlement would allegedly fulfill the latter two aspects. However, Article 2 of the Outer Space Treaty rejects the idea of owning territory beyond Earth.
“That’s what the Outer Space Treaty clearly prohibits,” von der Dunk said. “It never thought about the possibility that you’d create a state entirely in outer space.”