What’s needed next for the Moon

The norms and policies for how we operate on and around the Moon are being developed in real-time. What precedents do we want set? How can we balance intentionality with experimentation? Read on for deeper insights into these questions and more.

What’s needed next for the Moon

I co-led Open Lunar for five years without a prior space sector background. I thought it made me less relevant, but now I know that people outside the industry bring enormous value. We need many schools of thought all cooperating on how we mindfully extend humanity into space. 

Please read on for what we need to pay attention to. In trying to impact how we operate civilization, using the Moon as a template, we need vigilance around some key areas. 

The norms and policies for how we operate on and around the Moon are being developed in real-time. What precedents do we want set? How can we balance intentionality with experimentation? I’ll point out some food for thought.

Firstly, Economics.

Lunar economics is being driven by an investor mindset. Whether it be private or public investment, Lunar missions have been placing significant energy towards the interests of their backers. 

There are no Lunar missions that I’m aware of that don’t presume or anticipate that future Lunar economics will be built through a combination of space resource extraction, science bases, and tourism. This isn’t inherently negative, however, there are substantial risks associated with how we do this. The incentives for market development of Lunar resources and increased surface activity will come into conflict with other priorities like dust mitigation, or radio silence science. There are some early pieces of work on deconfliction that aim to offer principles to navigate this, but it’s not detailed or specific. 

In the absence of purposeful market design, we’re seeing a wide array of spaghetti being thrown at the wall. Payload partnerships with universities for science experiments are a norm, however, the more creative ‘Ashes on the Moon’, ‘wedding ring on the Moon’, and ‘Can of Soda on the Moon’ style stunts are also becoming typical payloads on commercial missions. NASA did some good thinking to pioneer price-setting contracts for Lunar soil (regolith) to be scooped from the Lunar surface, but hasn’t followed up on it and used a tokenistic price point.

As we continue to work together on these issues we need entrepreneurship from economists to support informed design of market development with guardrails. 

Secondly, Governance arrangements.

Let’s think of the Moon as the 8th Continent of Earth in the Earth-Moon system. As we consider how to govern the Moon, let’s think of it as part of our web of concerns, not far away and separate from us. Conflict in space can incite terrestrial conflict and vice versa. 

Given that the Moon has protection against territorial claims by nation-states under the Outer Space Treaty, standing up a governance system within those constraints often reminds us of the High Seas, the Arctic, and the Antarctic. For many governance scholars, the Moon is one of many landscapes in their “cold and dark places” portfolio; places where no single country has sovereignty. However, despite similarities with other Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJs), the interests in the Moon are unique, the stakeholder types are unique, and the moment in history where this is happening is distinct from the pressures of the Cold War or other defining prior policymaking environments.  The pressures today, in this half-century, are around sustainability and planetary stewardship.  We need to modify our economic and governance incentives to account for Earth’s planetary boundaries, and learn how to take collective action and hold collective accountability. There are real opportunities within Lunar governance to prototype new ways of investing in and managing shared assets and infrastructure, which will offer blueprints for how we reform Earth’s economy for tomorrow’s needs. Literature around commons governance and commons economics is highly relevant to space issues.

There is ever-increasing Lunar activity. Let's all lean into opportunities for wise design of governance. Let’s build governance in step with the pace of action. If there isn't an appetite for something as unifying and centralized as a Lunar Constitution, then let’s map out a more polycentric set of protocols for how to stand up stakeholder-driven decision-making spaces. At Open Lunar, we believe governance will be bootstrapped by services and utilities that we use together. Something like a Lunar internet can become a reason to coordinate, rather than seeing governance as an academic exercise. When multiple missions are operating in the same region of the Moon, there may be good cause for a pragmatic and open forum for operators in one region to work together to decide how they will prevent interference. 

Whether it be a South Pole regional planning authority or an internet governance group, let’s look for opportunities to build these with intention and use lessons from history. Let’s find that Goldilocks governance, is neither too authoritative nor a stalemate of consensus, leveraging subsidiarity and polycentricity.

Third, moments of precedent-setting. 

Throughout history, there have been moments where a “first” happened which shifted an entire worldview, legal system, or productivity method. As the Moon is still in the very early days of having its firsts, we should all pay close attention to those that may cement desirable or undesirable futures. What are the long-term implications of subtle differences in behaviour between different parties? We can watch for precedents being set, and we can set them. Let’s look for opportunities in the way we standardize, communicate, catalogue data, share science, and establish norms, to consciously set desirable precedents. 

Let’s build.

Open Lunar is the home of a vibrant community of diverse experts who build projects together addressing these issues.

If your expertise could bring value to these endeavours, I strongly encourage you to connect with our team. Open Lunar has roles for voluntary experts, and paid researchers, and brings in entrepreneurs to build out projects at scale. This is a platform for action. If any of this sounds like you, email rachel@openlunar.org who leads this workflow.

If you’re working on behalf of an institution that sees alignment in these topics and opportunities, reach out to jacob@openlunar.org