Why the Lunar Mission has gained traction?

India has successfully launched its lunar mission Chandrayaan-2 and the mission is expected to make soft-landing on the lunar surface with Vikram and its rover Pragyan on a site between two large craters in the South Polar Region.

Why the South Pole has become the area of Focus?

The South Pole has become an area of interest not just for India but also for other countries and even private corporations due to the following reasons:

  • The lunar South Pole has places where the sun never sets.
  • These places are also called “Peaks of Eternal Light” (points on any celestial body that receive sunlight through the year).
  • Near permanent sunlight will facilitate the establishment of lunar stations with assured supply of solar energy.
  • Also, some of these peaks are located next to areas that are in permanent darkness and hold significant reserves of lunar ice.
  • Having easy access to water is a critical factor for the sustainable human presence on the moon.
  • Further water can also be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen, which in turn can be turned into rocket fuel.
  • Due to the moon’s low gravity, space vehicles need a lot less fuel than on earth for take-off.
  • This could also make the moon a convenient way-station from which human explorers could travel to other celestial bodies.

Other Missions which are targeting the South Pole

  • China’s Chang’e 4 will soft-land on the Von Karman crater on the dark side of the South Polar Region. China is hoping to build a lunar robotic station near the South Pole in little more than a decade.
  • The US lunar programme aims to put man back on the moon in the next decade. NASA is also focused on landing the astronauts on the South Pole. If NASA succeeds, it will be the first manned crew to arrive at the South Pole.
  • Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has unveiled the Blue Moon project that seeks to land men and women on the moon in the next few years. The project seeks to land two tons of cargo on each mission and start building a lunar base at the Shackleton Crater (named after Ernest Shackleton who explored the earth’s south pole in the Antarctic) very close to the lunar South Pole.

Lunar Race and Problems of Management

As this Lunar race intensifies sooner than later the world will run into difficult problems about such mundane issues as property rights.

Current Provisions: 1967 Outer Space Treaty
  • The outer space treaty explicitly affirms that the outer space and celestial bodies like the moon can’t be “appropriated” by any nation through claims of sovereignty, occupation or any other means.
  • The outer space treaty states that exploration and use of outer space “shall be the province of all mankind”.
  • The outer space treaty also wants states to show “due regard to the corresponding interests of all other States Parties to the Treaty”.

The interpretation of these principles is becoming contentious as more nations are aiming at gaining a strategic advantage by asserting themselves on the moon. This is a clear recipe for competition and conflict on the moon. Further lack of any provision in outer space treaty for effective dispute resolution makes the matters worse.

The Outer space treaty calls for consultations when conflicts arise. But this would inevitably take nations out of the legal domain and into the political domain.

Domestic Legislations
  • The US has authorised its citizens to own, transport and sell resources exploited on the moon arguing that this provision does not violate Outer space treaty’s principle of “non-appropriation” of the moon’s territory.
  • Luxembourg has also passed a similar law to attract companies interested in space mining.
  • The UAE is expected to follow suit soon.

While celebrating Chandrayaan 2, India needs to match the extraordinary success of its scientists with the sustained diplomatic effort at the highest level to develop a stronger political voice for India in shaping new rules for the moon and outer space.

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