Martian Laws

If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m fucked.

They say once you grow crops somewhere, you have officially colonized it. So, technically, I colonized Mars. In your face, Neil Armstrong!

I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.

I blew myself up. Everything went great right up to the explosion.

∼ ∼ ∼ ∼ § ∼ ∼ ∼ ∼

Botanist Mark Watney is a fantastic character in the 2015 film “The Martian.” The movie is one of my all-time favorites. Those are just a few of the classic lines Watney stated while stranded, alone, on Mars, trying to survive for another 4-years, minimum. Complicated? Daunting? Yeah, to say the least. And that’s strictly concerning the human needs of Martian explorers and colonists, which by the way were not just Americans.

The Martian - base stationEarth-bound nations and their people have a long, long history of fighting each other and not getting along. What happens on Mars, or any celestial body, when Earthly independent nations with their own agendas start mixing with or conflicting with foreign foreign agendas? Watney indeed talked about those guidelines in the film, that applied back on Earth and Earth’s orbits, but what about on Mars?

In an October 2017 article on, writer Gbenga Oduntan probes into these issues with some questions regarding the governing of activity on and around Mars. I find it all intriguing because by 2022 and 2028 these manned Mars expeditions will become reality.

Psychological Factors

Mars is around 34.2 million miles away from Earth, which means it would take a manned spacecraft between 150-300 days — depending on the speed of the launch, the alignment of Earth and Mars, and the trajectory of the journey the spacecraft takes — to reach the red planet. The human physiological challenges of a year in spaceflight are numerous. If the trip doesn’t kill you or drive you insane, living on Mars might. The emotional stressors of being away from Earth are perhaps more numerous. Then consider living on an unforgiving, uncooperative alien planet and all sorts of further complexities compound manned expeditions.

[after Mindy has discovered that Watney may be alive]
“Can you imagine what he’s going through up there? I mean, he’s 50 million miles away from home. He thinks he’s totally alone. He thinks we gave up on him. What does that do to a man, psychologically? What the hell is he thinking right now?” — Vincent Kapoor, The Martian


click here to enlarge

Experts at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Planetary Science Institute say helping boost the astronaut’s morale on the journey and on the surface of Mars would be the need to have enough living-space and good food for them to garden. Crops from “green walls” could supplement their space-food diet. Of course loading up the spacecraft with these pseudo-Earth human comforts and needs means a heavier payload, more fuel, and more cost considerations. Humans on Earth and in most governed states are required to pass tests to be issued operator licenses for autos and machinery. What sort of licensing tests should there be for Mars? These are only a few of the material, legal, and psychological challenges of manned spaceflights to Mars.

Policing and Martian Rights

The appropriate and safe activity on Mars and her two moons Phobos and Deimos will be practically endless. How should it be governed and policed? What should be permitted for states and corporations like Elon Musk’s SpaceX? Certain manufacturing of drugs and materials requiring sterile atmospheres could be done in space stations. Space and Mars discoveries under present laws can be patented and commercialized. Hence, what should be the legitimacy of Martian mining?

As laws stand now, conducting expeditions for the sake of science and sustenance for Martian missions are granted. However, creating property rights over celestial resources are not. This means the commercial extraction of resources back to Earth is illegal until international space treaties are updated. Unfortunately, history has shown that cooperation between opposing nations has often been hit or miss to put it mildly. It is likely that new laws and treaties for property and resources 34-million miles away will be ignored by Martian workers and their employers. Just ask the Native Americans of the U.S. Like the California Gold Rush of 1848 and the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, the U.S. and Luxembourg have made attempts already to gain appropriation of natural resources in space. Essentially the two countries are preparing to issue Carte Blanche to private companies for winner-takes-all acquisitions.

The Intergovernmental Agreements of 1988 and 1999 drawn up for the Columbus Space Station Project then the current International Space Station offer civil and criminal jurisdiction for all nations participating in space exploration. Parties to these agreements set out to govern the conduct and ramifications of international operating environments, particularly concerning the ESA’s (European Space Agency) eleven independent member states. Yet, even the totality of these agreements and policies in several instances are not fully elaborated, they do provide a compass for a comprehensive legal framework that can serve as an example for international space law and a forward-looking view to new developments.

Watney-Space Pirate

“Mark Watney:  Space Pirate.”

Nonetheless, it has become tradition that astronauts, cosmonauts, etc, are almost always subordinate to the hierarchical authority of one commander from their native registered country. That commander’s authority is usually cut-and-dry; final. Like in the naval traditions of hierarchy the ship’s captain has full and ultimate command and it is his/her responsibility for the care and safety of crew and passengers or “space colonists.” These past command traditions and roles will need modernizing however, for space travel and celestial population and survival.

Current Space Station Laws

“I’ve been thinking about laws on Mars. There’s an international treaty saying that no country can lay claim to anything that’s not on Earth. By another treaty if you’re not in any country’s territory, maritime law applies. So Mars is international waters. Now, NASA is an American non-military organization, it owns the Hab. But the second I walk outside I’m in international waters. So Here’s the cool part. I’m about to leave for the Schiaparelli Crater where I’m going to commandeer the Ares IV lander. Nobody explicitly gave me permission to do this, and they can’t until I’m on board the Ares IV. So I’m going to be taking a craft over in international waters without permission, which by definition… makes me a pirate.

Mark Watney: Space Pirate.

As Watney illustrates, there are a plethora of complexities not only aboard a space station orbiting Earth or Mars, but just as many complexities surround stations on the surface of Mars that need to be spelled out. According to the Outer Space Treaty, Mars belongs to everybody back on Earth. Nobody can “own” a celestial body. Today private companies on Earth can go to Mars whenever they choose, construct permanent habs, and start new Martian societies, as long as they do so under the Outer Space Treaty’s laws and bylaws. For good or bad this also includes weaponry. Those operations are not allowed to interfere with operations of others on Mars or in space. As Watney correctly alluded, maritime laws, at least for now, are applicable examples. But as was also touched on, including other independent nations to Martian activities and things are not so clear-cut, yet.

Here in the U.S. if you want to put a satellite into orbit, you must first obtain permission from the federal government. Depending on what activity will be done in space you must get further permission or license to do such activity. However, move outside of Earth-orbit and there are no current licensing agencies to supervise legal ramifications of celestial colonization. Space tourism by private companies has been on the rise for several years so governments are going to have to sort out licensing protocols very soon.

colonizing Mars - NGM

click here to enlarge

Like any new, untouched, pristine area or park, opening them up to the general public means human trash and contamination. The Outer Space Treaty specifically states this activity or behavior by humans or business entities is prohibited and it includes our contaminating microbes. Yet, here’s the Catch-22. Private or government spacecraft, by order of the OST, are required to decontaminate their ships as best as possible before sending and/or arriving on foreign planets. But humans are near impossible to decontaminate because our health depends on these microbes. Places on Mars or on other celestial bodies that may contain water or forms of frozen water and liquids or once did must receive the highest protections and laws possible. Even the most thoroughly decontaminated vessels may need banning from specific areas. Let’s keep in mind though that these laws, their jurisdiction, and enforcement in the end fall only under the U.S. flag. International space cooperation and collaboration among nations and peoples will see unchartered territory in the coming decades. Can it be made easier or harder? How so and how not?

Once again, there will always be titans of commerce who scream about “bureaucratic red-tape” and their (unfounded?) feeling of repression toward “human progress and developement” while their greed lurks in the wings waiting to pounce. History is saturated with these exploitations of resources at the expense of the bio-eco systems and/or the lives of lower-class vulnerable humans. Why would space, Mars, and beyond be any different?

Like 15th century European Empires discovering the New World bringing with them their way of life, materials, waste, and weapons, space debris around Earth-orbits today is already well past a point of substantial risks of collisions. It is only a matter of time before damage to a space station, human injury or loss of life caused by congested operations, overcrowding, trash, and debris will lead to legal and/or political conflicts. How soon should Earth’s international space community hash-out these very real future events? Is it even possible? Will it be easy or hard?


Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Explore & Learn Always

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19 thoughts on “Martian Laws

  1. Fascinating topic. Considering our troubled history, human colonization of space is sure to be even more problematic. How we manage it is an open-ended question of monumental proportions. I don’t claim to have the answers, but one thing is certain. The exploitative political and economic systems we’ve relied on up until now are guaranteed to fail.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I think you are right John. There will always be human exploitation of other humans, other resources. It seems to be part of human DNA, huh? Ahh, the balance or imbalance of another wild, wild, West in space and on planets.

      For me, it begs the question (and ramifications) of how much really does a human “need” to survive… even thrive? Apparently Earth was/is too small, not abundant enough. HAH! 😧 Will our own solar system not be enough? The Asteroid Belt? The Oort Cloud? The Milky Way? Seriously!?

      Liked by 5 people

  2. Professor do you think our society/world will become a utopia of cooperation like Star Trek, or a Dystopian where corporations hold all power and human life has no value unless you are very wealthy? Are we to be a great space-faring race , or terrified organisms scrambling for basic needs? DO you hold out hope for us as a species? The way things are here in the USA today I don’t think it looks too good for the future. Hugs

    Liked by 5 people

    • There are probabilities for both a Star Trek Utopia or Dystopian America, Scottie. Hahaha! 😛 I see the latter still existing and continuing to be a looming threat as long as some Homo sapiens still possess those primate genetic traits, like what has inhabited the White House since January 2017. 😉 And as long as those Dystopian groups wield power and position, I think there will be “terrified organisms” and species struggling for basic needs. As I’ve written about and posted about before, until humans can master Eusociality and Superorganism collaboration as well as the other 11-18 other Earth species that have been doing it exceptionally well for over 200,000 years, this is a thorn and blemish on humanity’s record.

      But I do have hope for certain “types” of humans, yes. What I see possibly happening for the more advanced Homo sapiens with good forethought, critical-thinking skills, and selflessness and sense of community, is that they out manuever the dystopians because of better pooled collaboration and organization. By Natural Selection processes the more “aggressive species” tend to slowly eliminate themselves… sort of like when everybody has guns and fingers twitching on the triggers. LOL 🤣

      Liked by 5 people

  3. Too big of a focus. Imagine you have a self-sustaining colony on Mars and another colony experiences a catastrophe. Need you extend aid? Hospitality? What if it endangers your colony if you have to take in too many. What if there are 10 of them and you can handle five? What if they get turned away and get pissed and attack your habitats? All those worries about mining claims and rights to recover natural resources don’t mean shit if people are dying in a hostile environment.

    Maybe civilized people can say ahead of time how many stragglers a colony can absorb in such an event, so that only that many come. Maybe we determine ahead of time that stragglers do not get to vote in their new home. Maybe it is worth working out these things because as we all know a plan is only good until the first shot is fired.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Steve, those are 4-5 great questions and ideas. And you describe human nature/psychology, especially when under extreme survival mode (Fight or Flight), quite accurately when it comes to adapting as a team/group. What if YOUR nation’s habitat and team had been reluctant to offer rescue/aid earlier — let’s say to the Chinese or Russians due to political conflicts on Earth — leading to some of their deaths. Then after unforeseen circumstances later YOUR habitat suffered a catastrophic accident. Would the Chinese or Russians be obligated to rescue/assist?

      Personally, I like some of these possible scenarios because it FORCES humans to drop (patriotic) pretenses and just consider and move toward that Superorganism collaboration & Eusociality that 11-18 other Earth species have perfected for over 200,000 years… and survived every Earth-extinction event.

      As always Steve, thank you for your great insight and comments.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. One of the major failings of the movie is that Watney never discloses whose poop produces the best potatoes.
    However, I did learn how to plant taters and produced a very small crop last year following his example.
    Sans the poop, I hasten to add, as my wife wouldn’t let me go in the garden in case the neighbours saw or my folks had Google Earth switched on.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Bwahahahaha! 🤣 Did you ever once “think about” HOW your taters you were eating from your well-cared for, well-tilled, well fertilized garden (I’m sure) were so tasty, so healthy!? 😉 😛 And did any of your family “wonder”?

      Now when I’m using Google Earth I’ll know what country to avoid like the stink! (kid pears over my shoulder curious…)

      “Daddy, why is South Africa mooning and squating so much?”

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Interesting topic, Professor, and comments made. If we are to succeed in mining and colonizing Mars, it has to be a united planetary undertaking, for reasons already mentioned by Robert, Steve, and Scottie. A giant step for the human species in all of its gender and racial/ethnic diversity.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello Rosaliene! Thank you for reading and commenting! ❤ 🙂

      A "united planetary undertaking.” As I often repeat, sometimes sarcastically, about such great insight… “What a novel idea that would be.” 😛 But in all seriousness Rosaliene, you are spot on. I feel too often our borders, our (radical?) patriotism, our flawed desire to be overly unique, elite, superior from other humans, other nations, other cultures, greatly hurts our species as a whole! As my favorite Naturalist and neo-Sociobiologist E.O. Wilson has taught:

      “Exclusion makes us suffer. Inclusion makes us thrive.”

      As you also finished with “A giant step for the human species in all of its gender and racial/ethnic diversity.” you could not be anymore accurate. Bulls-eye Rosaliene! And as I mentioned to Steve Ruis above, I like some of these possible scenarios because they will FORCE us humans to drop ridiculous pretenses and find ways toward improved eusociality and Superorganism behavior in Homo sapiens. 😀

      Liked by 3 people

      • 😆 I’m glad I was able to give you a nice laugh. That can be a gift.

        Just so you know, that comment didn’t come from a place of hate or anger. I honestly see the human race as being invasive. We mindlessly push our violently greedy and selfish ways on all living beings – animals, plants and other humans without a care for how it affects anyone but ourselves. We seem to need/want constant growth and expansion. I believe I was being kind by referring to us as a virus. I easily could have used the term cancerous to describe the human race.

        “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” – Edward Abbey

        Thanks for a genuinely provocative discussion. 🙂


  6. Pingback: Returning to Mars | The Professor's Convatorium

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