“I see a bad moon rising, I see trouble on the way.”
Credence Clearwater Revival sang this song in 1969, the same year that Neil Armstrong left the first ever footprint on lunar soil. The song was written about an impending apocalypse, according to lead singer John Fogerty. But it could just as easily refer to an impending lunar conflict.
The idea is not so far-fetched as you might think. The moon is a rich source of helium-3, which has been described as ‘the perfect energy source for fusion reactions’. Whether or not that is the case, there is no doubt that the moon offers resources in abundance. Get set for the 21st century gold rush, or as I like to call it, the Great Lunar Land Grab. Current players are, in my book, USA, Russia, India, China and Japan, along with a couple of private corporations that will pop out the woodwork – possible contenders include SpaceX, Planetary Resources Inc., Bigelow Aerospace, Shimizu Corporation, and probably a few other Asian contenders lurking under the radar.
This is how I see it going down. As it currently stands, one little UN treaty covers resource management in space – the Outer Space Treaty. It’s a flaccid, almost meaningless document declaring that space (all of it) should be used for the good of humanity, and that we should be sure to all hold hands while sharing our lunches. I have no doubt that it will be summarily ignored by all parties. The next twenty years will see increased lunar activity on both public and private fronts. China has just launched a lunar rover and wants an inhabited lunar base by the 2020’s. Likewise, Japan is talking about inhabiting the moon by 2020. Not wanting to be left behind, the USA will follow suit. And since NASA isn’t getting much funding these days, that money might even come out of the USA’s absurdly large defense budget. In the private sector, Bigelow Aerospace has recently applied to the USA’s Federal Aviation Administration for land rights to mine on the moon (The obvious fact that they have no jurisdiction doesn’t seem to concern the company too much). And just last week, Japan’s Shimizu Corporation announced a plan to build a ring of solar panels around the moon’s equator, starting in 2035. And so the stage is set.
Things will, no doubt, progress peacefully for a while. Rape and exploitation of the moon’s resources (almost exclusively by drone) will be well underway before trouble shows itself. And you can be sure that it will start small, a diplomatic butting of heads over a tasty patch somewhere on the Oceanus procellarum. After some Earthside back-and-forth, both parties will resume mining as they were, taking no heed of the other. We already know that China is bullish about it’s territory, especially where resources are concerned. And the USA are not ones to back off from an *ahem* ego-measuring contesting. Considering the cost of maintaining a large human population on the moon, the majority of the work would likely be performed by automated machines. Further, I would suspect that any country or corporation with assets on the moon would have weaponised drones on standby for this very event. And so we have an almost perfect cocktail for a remote conflict – lots of big guns, a very tasty prize, and no risk of human collateral damage. The only thing that could conceivably stop it would be an international governing body with actual clout, or plenty of political will from all parties involved. I don’t envision either arising in the next few years. As for the private corporations, they have even less reason to be circumspect. War, after all, is very good business.
I know, of course, that this isn’t the most likely scenario. But it is not impossible, especially without any kind of oversight or controlling committee. ‘May you live in interesting times’ is an old Chinese curse. It seems that we are cursed, indeed. You won’t catch me complaining.