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Ask HN: Is There a Mars Constitution?
9 points by sharemywin 19 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 19 comments
Assuming people do colonize Mars if private companies own all the stuff on mars would they be defacto kings?

What happens on mars stays on mars?

One of the principles of the Outer Space Treaty [1] is that "outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means." So that seems to prevent existing nations from claiming the rights of government in respect of Mars (in whole or in part) and the people on it. Whether it prevents new indigenous nations from forming there is (I assume) anyone's guess. And it may just be ignored anyway.

I suspect that if and when people eventually get to Mars and get to stay there, the various stakeholders (earth governments, blocs, and corporations) will initially cook-up something similar to the Antarctic Treaty [2] that has regulated human conduct in Antarctica for the last sixty years. And that'll stay in-place until it hits it's scaling limits, whereupon it'll be replaced by something with more involvement from local people and institutions. What that would look like, I don't know.

Geography is history and Mars isn't anything like Earth, so it'll have its own historical development. The people there will still be people, but they'll be changed by their experience. I'm not sure that templates from Earth (perhaps even including the concept of constitutions) will be useful beyond the short term.

[1] https://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/int...

[2] https://www.ats.aq/index_e.html

By intent and design, the Outer Space Treaty was more or less obsoleted by 1979 "Moon Treaty" (so-called -- it actually applied to other celestial bodies, not just the Moon).

However, given that no space-faring nation (U.S., Russia, China) has ever ratified the Moon Treaty, and, given that the U.N. normally can't even enforce its directives here on Earth (especially not if a Security Council member -- such as, again, U.S., Russia, China -- objects), it would appear to be rather toothless.

So long as it is a challenge to provide air, water and essentials of life there is going to be "big government" and probably harsh government.

In some place like this


they throw you outside if you can't pay your air bill. We've shown people who contaminate the atmosphere on Earth a lot of forbearance (e.g. it takes 100 years of CO2 emissions to create a crisis), but if you contaminate the internal atmosphere of a space habitat you can endanger other people immediately and it won't be tolerated.

With the right kind of technology base it might be different: say you had some kind of self-assembling machines that could build small habitats that are autonomous. You might find small groups of people who go there own way and assemble with likeminded others.

you could possibly be sent back to earth?

I'm going on a bit of a rant so please bear with this thought exercise.


>you could possibly be sent back to earth?

I'd guess that'd be a bigger cost than that of keeping Billy (the prisoner to-be) in the habitat, with damages and loss of working man-hours included.

I presume the colonists agree on what'd happen if anyone became a problem in the colony before they set off, but just for thought's sake, if we go into the costs-first way of doing things then it wouldn't be out of the question that the other colonists would just kill Billy, or put him into some other not-alive state:

  - Putting Billy into some sort of prison would be a loss of food, man-hours (he's no longer working and someone must keep tabs on him, feed him, and stuff) and space, all precious commodities in Mars.

  - Exile would mean certain death without giving Billy a surface-suit (big cost, not replaceable), and even with one it'd also mean an even worse fate in the barren landscapes of Mars. Knowing there's nothing out there for him just means he'd stay around banging at the windows or being an active threat to the survival of the colony.

  - I mentioned shipping Billy back in the earlier paragraph.

  - Using Billy for compost would be extremely unethical and life-scarring for the other colonists but also the only (I think) cost-positive way to put an end to an irreversibly disruptive colonist. Key-word is 'irreversibly'.

  - Rehabilitation is a problem we haven't solved here on Earth yet, hence it's not mentioned as an option, but if you think it can be done please say so in the comments.
Maybe holding Billy captive and replacing him in the next supply-ship cycle could work, and its not the worst option in terms of cost. I guess that's why they screen and test you so hard before taking you in as a candidate.

The morals of this are... don't optimize for costs, and talk things out with those you have a problem with.

Elon said going back from Mars to Earth will be free since the Starships have to return anyway to be reused.

Not sure I believe that.

A Starship that goes to and from LEO orbit might be reused once a day or more. In the time it takes to make the transit to Mars a "local traffic" Starship might be reused hundreds of times.

Thus in terms of capital intensity there isn't much difference between using and reusing a martian Starship. In fact it might be better to break it up at the destination, live in the tanks, recycle the metal, etc.

An interesting governance question on airless bodies (probably not Mars, but it doesn’t hang on to gas that well either.) is the sustainable use of volatiles.

We are sure now that there is water, carbon dioxide and possibly some kind of ice in craters near the lunar poles. In fact I am pretty sure a chunk of water ice could be stable 500 m under the moon’s surface.

It probably adds up to a medium or large lake which would be a good start for a closed ecology but could be used up quickly if people used it to make fuel.

Ceres has large inventories of volatiles on some sense. You could support a population of 1 trillion+ people in something like the O’Neill colonies.

In fact ‘small ringworld’ structures could be built with possible materials, especially if some kind of journal bearing could be built that handles 10+ km/sec velocity differences to transfer centrifugal stress to a reinforcing band. (Magnetic?)

That kind of structure wouldn’t need a roof; landing on a rotating ring about the radius of the earth (but inside out) would be about the same as landing on the Earth in terms of atmospheric entry.

It leaks gas though. A space-based civilization could last for millions of years if the rate of volatile leakage could be kept very low. Something like ceres looks like a huge amount of material for a human lifetime but a civilization built to last might take extreme measures to conserve volatiles. (E.g. reaction fuels might be unthinkable for routine use.)

As of right now, all of space is treated like international waters - vessels fly the flag of some nation and follow that nation's laws with respect to criminal activity, and captains are given wide latitude to make decisions affecting the ship's operation which carry the weight of law. Disputes between vessels of different nationalities or involving foreign nationals on vessel are generally hashed out by the two nations governments. For violations of international law, any nation can claim jurisdiction.

At first, everyone on mars is going to have family and assets on Earth, and thus earth based governments are going to have a lot of leverage. Of course oversight will be difficult, so if a company wants to do something illegal it could probably get away with it, but they'ed be more like mafiosos than royalty. I doubt we'd see any abuses on the same scale as say the east india company. After a few generations though there might be a sufficiently large population with sufficiently little connection to Earth that they may want to come up with their own law system. It's unlikely that any mars colony will provide much value to earth beyond national pride, so by that point they might face little resistance so long as they remain nominally under their parent nation's jurisdiction.

I suppose that ultimate control will lie with whoever owns the most resources, and how badly those people want to come back to Earth. If you have more carrots or sticks available to you on Mars than other people there do, then you can influence them, making you the de-facto ruler. If you declare yourself supreme leader of Mars and then go kill a bunch of people, when you land back on Earth for your friend's cousin's grandma's birthday party, you'll just be arrested.

Realistically, corporations will probably get to Mars first, but governments won't be far behind. I would recommend keeping your rage-killings to a minimum for that reason.

I don't think you have to go to Mars to do this. Many factions have claimed convenient islands on Earth as their own and have built highly functional societies even though other entities claim that they're the actual government. But of course, those societies watch the power struggle very nervously. If you can do it 80 miles off the coast of China, you can probably do it 230 million miles away.

Very important: There is no de facto "standard" legal state of uninhabited and unclaimed land.

Both constitutions and monarchies are choices. They can (and should be) legitimized by a souvereign.

You could argue that once people live on mars, they can choose to establish some sort of council that designs a constitution.

By the way, constitutions are typically informed by existing law, so it is plausible to assume that any mars constitution would resemble the (modern) ones we have.

[edit] To add: Of course anybody can claim some constitutional basis to exist, but everyone can challenge that. See Russia's occupation of the Krim peninsula, which quickly turned into a legal battle regarding souvereignity.

Is there a document? obviously not.

Is there a need for a constitution? Early Mars will be dominated by high productivity. You need someone to build and do the things. Recreating massive numbers of vertical industries is impossible to do without people being in top productivity. There wont even need to be a union. The 'king' will be required to keep those people happy.

If there's even a slight threat of being thrown out an airlock, people wont move there. You will fail early. There wont be a need for a constitution for quite some time.

First come first served

I suspect it'll become a chinese land, since they'll be there first

We are too busy trying to manipulate and profit from each other to even start to think about that kind of detail

"Is There a Mars Constitution?" Why, yes there is...

One of its provisions says, "If you happen to grow a third nipple, expect to have your air supply cut off."

I saw a bit of the mars tv show where private miners turned up and announced as they had brought no water with them the existing government astronauts were obliged legally to assist them and share their water. So the theory seems there may be no government but there will be lawyers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_(American_TV_series)

Mars does what Earth says, or they all die?

Lear history of US. People will colonize and after that a government will be made to rule everything.

Why would there be any answers to this question now? Nobody has been there yet.

Then the answer is "No".

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