Backlight: Race to Space

Current affairs - Politics
colonilization, Space
48'
Kees Brouwer
VPRO
HD
HD available

The colonization of space has only just begun. Numerous parties have great ambitions to explore outer space for tourism, transportation and raw materials. It’s a race, and slowly but surely it’s becoming clear that there is a need for clear rules concerning the entering and use of this space. Space lawyer Frans von der Dunk is currently one of the few people in the world who is trying to shed some light on this.

On a sunny morning in 1889, hundreds of covered wagons were ready to start a race. Under the motto ‘first come, first served’, settlers could claim their own piece of land. This Oklahoma Run got completely out of control. Today, we’re on the eve of a new colonization: this time it’s outer space. The new space race is about the claims that can be made: to space itself and to the various planets and asteroids. It seems everyone wants to go into space. Whether you want to plant the national flag of China, the Czech Republic or Israel, or mine raw materials. Whether your company is called Deep Space Industries or Planetary Resources, and whether your name is Elon Musk or Richard Branson. Countries have strategic and political interests, companies have commercial ones, plus there is a growing number of wealthy adventurers who want to explore space.

Up till now, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty was the starting point for ‘space law’, but it’s completely outdated. The massive and irreversible space race which is about to start is crying out for a new legislation that’s clear to all parties involved. Frans von der Dunk, professor of Space Law at the University of Nebraska, has written the first manual for outer space. He hopes his book will become the first real standard work for the new space legislation.

As a pioneer in the field of space law, he is now consulted around the world by companies and countries with extraterrestrial ambitions. The main questions are about resolving conflicts concerning the extraction of raw materials, which is the topic of a forthcoming important and potentially historic moment: the adoption of the so-called Asteroid Act by the U.S. Senate. With this act, the United States wants to give American companies the opportunity to mine raw materials in space. But it’s a national law, so the U.S. is ignoring other countries, risking international conflicts as a result. So Frans von der Dunk has his work cut out for him.

VPRO Backlight traveled with space lawyer Frans von der Dunk for a month. His agenda is filled with exciting and surprisingly diverse meetings in the world of space travel: from Vienna to Washington, from Abu Dhabi to Jerusalem.

With: Frans von der Dunk (space lawyer and professor of Space Law at the University of Nebraska), Buzz Aldrin (the second man on the Moon) and Peter Marquez (former Space Policy advisor for presidents Bush and Obama, and currently vice president Planetary Resources).