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Badass Billionaire Bigelow: The Space Gigolo?

  • Jason McClellan

Robert Bigelow, Space Gigolo

Robert Bigelow is a badass.

He’s a billionaire who is passionate about space. He also has a strong interest in all things strange. He has spent millions (yes, millions) of dollars researching paranormal phenomena like UFOs, alien abductions, out-of-body experiences, and psychic phenomena, just to name a few. He even purchased the infamous Skinwalker Ranch in northeastern Utah—a location known for its broad range of paranormal activity; lots of really strange shit.

Bigelow is a space pioneer. He and his company Bigelow Aerospace are among the leaders in the private space race. This company has focused on developing inflatable, interconnectable modules that can serve as habitats in space. It might sound futuristic, but there are already two of these prototypes in orbit around Earth.

Bigelow Aerospace is doing exciting things. And, understandably, there are lots of people who want to get into bed with Robert Bigelow, including NASA.

NASA has contracted with Bigelow Aerospace to test one of its inflatable modules on the International Space Station. The space administration also asked Bigelow to formulate plans for a lunar base.

Many private space companies see dollar signs when looking at the Moon. Many roadblocks stand in the way of the business Bigelow and others want to conduct on the lunar surface. But, because the Federal Aviation Administration also wants to get into bed with Bigelow, his Moon initiatives are moving forward.

Bigelow believes that private companies, like Bigelow Aerospace, should be able to own lunar property. The problem is that space is kind of like the Wild West. There is some semblance of space law in place. But what exists in terms of space law was formulated back in the 1960s when most space activities were viewed as far off, unrealistic dreams. These archaic laws are ambiguous, but most interpret these laws as prohibiting commercial activity on the Moon. But, understandably, this has been a longstanding issue of debate.

The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, commonly referred to as the Outer Space Treaty, is predominantly the basis for laws governing space.

Proponents of private ownership of resources on the Moon cite Article I of the Outer Space Treaty, which indicates asteroids and other celestial bodies “shall be free for exploration and use.”  But Article I poses potential problems for resources ownership.  It also states that “exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries.”  It’s kind of hard for rich dudes and their private companies to claim that mining resources for profit fits the spirit of “for the benefit and in the interest of all countries.”

Again, because the Outer Space Treaty is nearly 50 years old, critics have repeatedly commented on the necessity for lawmakers to revisit the treaty to modify and expand the framework for modern space law.

Robert BigelowBigelow believes “The time has come to get serious about lunar property rights.” When asked by CNBC if he believes anyone should own the Moon, Bigelow responded, “No. No one anything should own the Moon. But, yes, multiple entities, group, individual, yes. They should have opportunity to own the Moon.” Explaining his reasoning for wanting lunar property rights, Bigelow stated, “Ultimately, permanent lunar bases will have to be anchored to permanent commercial facilities . . . Without property rights there will be no justification for investment and the risk to life.”

He called on the FAA to allow property rights for lunar mining. Obviously, the FAA doesn’t control the Moon or activities conducted on the Moon. It simply regulates rocket launches and reentries. But Bigelow Aerospace attorney Mike Gold believed that the FAA was the right place to start asking for permission to mine the Moon.

And it looks like Gold was right. Bigelow Aerospace received a letter from the FAA’s Office of the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (AST) on December 22, 2015 saying that it is “prepared to support Bigelow Aerospace's trailblazing initiative.”

This letter, which was sent after consulting other federal agencies like the Department of State and the Department of Defense, continues, “Moreover, we recognize the private sector's need to protect its assets and personnel on the Moon or on other celestial bodies . . . Supporting non-interference for private sector operations will enhance safety and only add to the long history of preserving ownership interests in hardware and equipment.”

Bigelow Moon BaseBut as Leonard David, Space.com Columnist points out, “the letter explains that the Department of State's fundamental concern is that the national regulatory framework, in its present form, is ‘ill-equipped’ to enable the U.S. Government to fulfill its obligations under the Outer Space Treaty with respect to private sector activities on the moon or other celestial bodies.”

So, although the FAA’s letter is a step in the right direction for Bigelow Aerospace and other private space companies interested in owning property and/or resources in space, Gold explains, “This is the beginning of a process, not the end. This response represents a first step by the AST to use what authority it has to create a safe and attractive environment for commercial lunar development. The first step is always the most challenging, and we're grateful to the FAA AST and their colleagues at the Department of State for this decision.”

Other private space companies like SpaceX and United Launch Aliance have partnered with Bigelow Aerospace. And with the NASA contracts, and now the admiration of the FAA, it’s clear that Bigelow’s a popular guy in the space game.

I definitely see the appeal.

So, Bob, let’s grab drinks and discuss space, UFOs, and anything else. My treat, of course.