How to Create Your Own Space Civilization, According to a Space Advocate

Let’s do a thought experiment. Tomorrow you’ll wake up and feel like Doctor Manhattan and say, ‘I’m tired of the Earth. These people.” The only option is to transport yourself to space. The moon is there. Or you can build a space station. Or maybe you have bigger ambitions and create a settlement on Mars. I imagined myself doing it .The enlightened and entitled space-dwelling nation of Alfredoville. If money and science were no problem, could anyone stop me?

After all, we want our mission beyond Earth to embody a utopia, meaning adhering to laws and ultimately creating our own affairs. IFLScience spoke with Professor Michelle Hanlon, co-director of the Air and Space Law Program at the University of Mississippi School of Law, about the current legality of building your own space community.

“The most important rule of law in space at the moment is the Outer Space Treaty. It’s really interesting because it’s not really a law book,” Professor Hanlon explained to IFLScience. “It says, ‘Hey, we’re all going to space, what’s the most important thing we want to think about? Keeping peace in space!’ And so it is very much determined by the question of how we are going to keep the peace.”

The Outer Space Treaty was agreed in 1967 and has been ratified by 111 countries. It is a crucial part of international law. It declares that everyone will have the freedom to explore the cosmos and that no state can claim territory. That should put some strong limitations on what you can do in space, but it’s not as clear as this brief description suggests.

The world and the world of space exploration have changed dramatically since 1967, especially in recent years. There are things that, because they are not expressly prohibited are considered permitted; for example, the use of mega-constellations that affect us all can and is approved by individual countries.

So where does that leave Alfredoville? It’s very much on the horizon of possibilities. There is no clear part of the treaty that prohibits me or anyone else from doing this. However, that doesn’t mean I can create a dictatorial or exploitative nation in space. We were born on Earth and remain connected to it for our survival, even in space. Neither food nor people can be found anywhere else, and even vital materials may only come from our planet.

“If you have the money, you can go to Mars and create Alfredoville and have your own rules. Absolutely,” Professor Hanlon continued. “But you will be tied to the United States, to the Earth, not necessarily to the United States, maybe to Italy.”

A golden bust of me is seen rising high above some mountains in a Martian setting.  Towering letters on the ground say Alfredoville with a person in front of it.

I think a giant gold bust of me overlooking Utopia Planitia could really explain the benevolent dictator I want to be.

Image credit: (C) IFLScience

I’m a billion dollars short of being a billionaire, but if I had that amount of money (and the ability to surgically remove empathy), I could legally start a company town on, say, Mars. In theory, I could be as exploitative as I want. I own the air and the infrastructure. What will my employees do? But the ties to Earth should theoretically keep me from being a tyrannical dictator.

“The country you’re currently trading with to get your food will say, we’re not going to deliver food unless you assure us that all your workers are safe and free or something like that. So as long as you have a connection with the earth, you are tied to a national government,” explains Professor Hanlon.

As stated at the beginning of our thought experiment, I believe in the rule of law, so even with money and power I will abide by it and its ties to the earth. Otherwise, my workers should feel free to hang me upside down in the public square and rename Alfredoville “The Free Space Settlement.”

This over-the-top thought experiment is not expected to become a reality anytime soon. We’ve discussed the scientific and technical complexities of space settlement elsewhere, but it’s important to understand the legalities as well. The Outer Space Treaty could be changed by agreements and behavior taking place now, and the consequences of those changes (or of not making changes) could affect space exploration for decades to come.

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