TABLE OF CONTENTS I. Introduction 152 A. Space Travel Through History 152 B. Elon Musk and the Future of Space Travel 154 II. Current Legislation 158 III. Issues 163 A. Habitization 163 B. Colonization 166 C. Liability 169 D. Jurisdiction 173 IV. New and Proposed Legislation 176 V. Conclusion 179 I. INTRODUCTION
Space Travel Through History
On October 4, 1957, a satellite weighing approximately 185 pounds and no more than two-feet in diameter was the first object to be successfully launched into space. (1) This satellite named Sputnik traveled at about 8,000 meters per second, taking ninety-eight minutes to successfully orbit the earth. (2) Ninety-two days later it re-entered earth's atmosphere and burned. (3) Sputnik's initial launch signaled a change in scientific development and introduced the world to our first journey into the final frontier.
The Soviet Union's successful launch of Sputnik not only encouraged the science community, but instilled fear in Americans during the midst of the Cold War. TIME magazine noted that the "chilling beeps" emitted from Sputnik signified a "remarkable scientific achievement" and served as evidence of the Soviet Union's prowess in the Cold War. (4) America's fear of falling behind the USSR's achievement served to advance scientific research in the United States, which lead to the development of our nation's space exploration program. (5) And thus, the beginnings of the space race ensued. (6)
Immediately following the successful launch of Sputnik, the U.S. Department of Defense approved funding for a new satellite program. (7) In January 1958, the United States successfully launched Explorer 1 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Explorer 1 was the first satellite launched by the United States. Once Explorer was in orbit, the existence of Van Allen Belts were discovered, setting the United States apart in the field of space exploration. (8) In October 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created to continue the exploration of space for "the benefit of all mankind." (9)
In 1961, while President John F. Kennedy was in office, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union heightened, and the space race was in full swing. In a message to Congress, Kennedy gave NASA the ultimate challenge: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth." (10) To all of America's joy, NASA fulfilled Kennedy's dream on July 16, 1969 when Apollo 11 sent Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins into space. (11) The Apollo lunar module Eagle, manned by Armstrong and Aldrin, landed in the Sea of Tranquility on the moon's surface. (12) Neil Armstrong exited Eagle and became the first person to set foot on a celestial body, proclaiming the now infamous words: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." (13)
Elon Musk and the Future of Space Travel
Since the launch of Apollo 11, a dozen men have walked on the lunar surface, a feat that, before 1957, many considered impossible. (14) Mankind has continued to push the boundaries of space exploration, reaching 248,655 miles above earth's surface, and sending unmanned probes beyond our own solar system and into interstellar space. (15) As we continue to learn more about our own solar system, we also continue to push the boundaries of what we once thought impossible and attempt to reach new horizons in outer space.
While the scientific community continues to learn more about our solar system, one man in particular has dreams of pushing the boundaries of space travel farther than anyone else. Elon Musk is a South African born entrepreneur known for founding X.com (now known as PayPal) and Tesla Motors, for which he currently serves as CEO. (16) Musk is famously known for pushing the boundaries of technology with Tesla, creating a full range of all-electric vehicles. (17) Musk's passion for clean energy has inspired his next project--SpaceX.
Founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, SpaceX was developed with the intent to "revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets." (18) The company currently has three orbital class rockets, all of which have completed sanctioned missions into space. (19) In 2010, SpaceX became the first and only private company to return a spacecraft from orbit. (20) In 2012 using an unmanned spacecraft, the company successfully delivered cargo to the International Space Station - "a challenging feat previously accomplished only by governments." (21) Since 2012, the spacecraft Dragon, (22) completed regular resupply missions for NASA. (23) In 2017, Musk and SpaceX accomplished a massive feat of space sustainability. (24)
Generally, a spacecraft accomplishes a single mission and any remaining materials are then used for scrap. For each new mission, a new rocket must be constructed, which can cost public and private companies millions of dollars. (25) Since 2011, SpaceX has worked towards making partially reusable rockets. (26) To carry out this effort SpaceX engineers land all rockets upon return to orbit with the hopes of using pieces of previously flown rockets to reduce the manufacturing costs for new missions. (27) In March 2017, SpaceX successfully completed a mission using a recycled Falcon 9 rocket. (28) The entirety of the rocket was not used, as certain chambers detach from the main body upon takeoff. (29) The first stage of the Falcon 9 - where the launch fuel and main engines are kept - detaches from the cargo-carrying rocket once in orbit, and is guided back down to earth where it makes a controlled landing. (30) Using a recycled first stage chamber, the company is able to save money while producing rapid turnaround for upcoming missions. (31)
Musk hopes that by mastering rocket reusability, SpaceX will soon be able to have complete craft reusability. (32)
SpaceX's ultimate mission extends far beyond rocket reusability. Its goal is to land a new spaceship, code name BFR, on Mars' surface by 2022. (33) The BFR will become the first commercial flight to Mars, carrying not only crew and cargo, but paying passengers. (34) To get there, Musk plans to begin construction of the new ship by the second quarter of 2018. (35) According to Musk's presentation at the International Astronautical Congress meeting in Adelaide, Australia in September of 2017, the construction of the first BFR is already in its early stages. (36) Musk claimed that, as of September, the construction facility was being built and tooling for the BFR has been ordered. (37) Musk is confident that the construction of the BFR will be complete within five years, or shortly thereafter. (38) By 2022, Musk hopes for a successful Mars rendezvous. (39) The goal of 2022 is crucial to Musk's plan because of planetary synchronicity, which for Earth and Mars, occurs roughly every two years with the Hohmann transfer orbit, which is the limited launch window enabling Earth launched spacecrafts to reach Mars. (40) The transfer allows for a spaceship launch from Earth to meet Mars at the same time when the ship is at its furthest orbital point. (41) By the following synchronicity in 2024, Musk plans to fly four additional BFRs to Mars' surface. (42) These ships would include two for cargo purposes, and two with crew to begin construction of a Martian propellant depot and permanent base. (43) The propellant depot would allow for rocket reuse, allowing for a return to Earth for additional supplies and passengers. (44)
When the Martian surface is ready for Musk's intended colonization, the BFR will have forty individual travel cabins, holding a maximum of five to six individuals. (45) Musk anticipates no more than two to three people per cabin, placing approximately 100 private citizens on the Martian surface by the late 2020s. (46) Based on the projected trajectory, payload, (47) and fuel capacity, Musk believes the journey will take no more than three to six months, (48) allowing for the development of space tourism and the creation of an interplanetary species. (49)
To create a habitable Martian surface, Musk has another bold plan. Musk's plan for the Mars colony is not to simply create a massive station capable of supporting human life; rather Musk hopes to restructure the Martian atmosphere to create a habitable environment for humans. (00) The colony will initially be composed of "transparent dome" constructions regulating the internal environment in order to provide oxygen and other elements necessary for colonists to live without the use of space suits. (51) Eventually, as Musk believes, we can restructure Mars to be more of an Earth-like planet, (02) He claims that the fastest way to create a habitable environment on Mars is to "warm it up" by periodically "drop[ing] thermonuclear weapons over the poles" of Mars. (53) These bombs would burn up some of the chemical composition of the atmosphere, creating a temperature-controlled environment with proper elemental compositions similar to those in the Earth's atmosphere. (04) Alternatively, the "slow way" of creating a habitable planet would be to release greenhouse gases, like those on Earth, to warm up the planet and create a sustainable atmosphere. (55)
As our universe continued to expand, both literally and figuratively, from the early days of Sputnik, not only have we ushered in a new era of scientific research and development, but also found increased international cooperation and the development of new legislation for continued cosmic peace. However, with Musk's plan for Martian colonization to begin in 2022, we first must ask whether his plan is legally feasible and then begin to fill the gaps in our current legislation and our anticipated future as a multi-planet species. This comment attempts to address some of the legal questions that are posed under Musk's plan for Martian colonization...