Elon Musk’s grand vision for a city on Mars has already been savaged as being incompatible with the principles of social justice. A recent article in IO9 suggests that it may be illegal. The case that Musk can’t proceed because of the Outer #Space Treaty is weak. In fact, the recent Moon Express mission approval provides a precedence that will likely be codified into law shortly. In any case, the article is flat wrong when it states that the company only has permission to land but not do anything once its probe is on the lunar surface. What Moon Express intends to do, in compliance with the mission approval and Article 6 of the Outer Space Treaty, has been spelled out as part of the conditions for winning the Google Lunar X Prize.

To be sure, a city on #Mars is of many orders of magnitude on a larger scale than a robot lander or even a mining operation. But the case is unclear that Musk needs special permission to build a Mars colony so long as he complies with the Outer Space Treaty’s strictures, especially noninterference with the activities of other countries.

On the other hand, an interesting end run exists that can allow Musk to ignore the Outer Space Treaty. He can declare the Martian Republic the moment the first one or two hundred colonists arrive. Since the Martian Republic would not be a party to the Outer Space Treaty, Musk’s Mars colony would do pretty much as it pleased as a sovereign country. 

Of course, it would be to Musk’s advantage if he had the cooperation of at least one Earth-side country while he is doing this. Let us suppose that the United States immediately recognize the Martian Republic, along with a free trade and mutual defense treaty. Of course, since the Mars colony is likely to be an international effort if it has any chance of succeeding, Musk should garner a number of other international sponsors in advance.

On the other hand, the Musk Mars colony is not likely to be even started for decades under the most optimistic scenario. That timeframe leaves more than enough time for the lawyers to mull adjustments to accommodate the reality of space colonies.   #OuterSpaceTreaty