James Cameron, Deepsea Challenge

Courtesy of Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

James Cameron wants to mine asteroids in space! I thought space resources were for everybody. Isn't he rich enough?!
—Pork Is Good, via the inbox

Yes, Cameron does have plenty of film lucre as it is—with his Avatar flick bringing in a record $2.78 billion at the box office and an estimated personal net worth somewhere in the middle nine figures. But to be king of the world, one must also rule the stars, it seems:

And according to my research, Cameron's plan to frack on asteroids is totally legal. At least, on this planet.

Here's the deal: Cameron has partnered with two suits from Google to finance a new space mining venture. The company, called Planetary Resources, plans to build robotic ships that can suck rocket fuel and precious metal out of nearby flying space rocks. The company will ferret out the rocks with a series of private telescopes, and it plans to do all the space work without any human labor. (No Sam Rockwell Moon scenario here.)

Now: There are international treaties here on Earth, agreements that are supposed to govern what we Earthlings do with the resources we find in space. For example, according to a treaty signed by several countries the 1960s, no country is supposed to try to claim ownership of the moon.

But sucking stuff out of our celestial bodies? That's a different story.

"Mining is not prohibited by space law," says Tanja Masson-Zwaan of the International Institute of Space Law. "However the company would have to be authorized by its government; the government remains the liable party" in the event of some sort of space grievance.

(Technically, international space law doesn't ban private companies from claiming ownership of space rocks. But it's generally understood that host countries are liable for such claims and are encouraged to shut them down.)

The takeaway? If Cameron's mining operation comes up with some precious Unobtainium, it's all his and his pals'. But if that same operation somehow sends a piece of debris flying into another country, the U.S. of A, apparently, is the one on the hook.

Sounds like a pretty savvy investment to me.

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