SpaceX appears to be on track for Mars by 2018, but has legal hurdles to clear

Elon Musk's SpaceX made waves by announcing in late April that it planned to field a Mars mission by 2018. While those plans appear to be on track, legal and political issues remain. Based on what Digital Trends has learned, the company is doing what it needs to do to make sure it's clear sailing.

At issue is a nearly 50-year-old multinational agreement called the Outer Space Treaty that governs how activities in space should operate. While it's fairly clear on exploratory issues, it's much less clear on exoplanetary settlements and exploitation of resources. It also places responsibility for these activities at the feet of the nations who signed on.

The U.S. Government is working through the issues raised by SpaceX's planned mission, Motherboard reports. Digital Trends was able to confirm Motherboard's story, and NASA and SpaceX already have a "no-funds exchanged" agreement to work together at least on logistics and support for the mission.

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Such an agreement is vital, considering Article VI of the treaty states that signees "shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by nongovernmental entities," and that the signee governments "require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty."

This likely means whatever shape SpaceX's mission does take in the end, it will likely be in some form of a public-private partnership to ensure the company is within the limits of international law.

While the Outer Space Treaty does also ban appropriation of space resources, from what we've gathered, part of the agreements already in place between SpaceX and NASA address these issues. This might be the most important part of the two entities' work together, considering Musk's ultimate goal is a permanent settlement on Mars spearheaded by SpaceX itself.

The issue in the end, however, could be moot. As we reported last year, the U.S. Government passed a law permitting the mining of asteroids by commercial interests. In and of itself, the new laws violate the Outer Space Treaty, but Congress and our president doesn't seem to mind.