Martian Law: The Next Great Space Adventure

February 25, 2015

If you are unfamiliar with the Dutch non-profit Mars One, then the first line of their mission statement should tell you all that you need to know to become more interested. “It is Mars One’s goal to establish a human settlement on Mars.” Last week the group announced its final selection of 100 candidates, who were picked from a pool of approximately 200,000 applicants. Eventually, twenty-four of these applicants will be selected to form six crews of four. The plan is for these crews to launch to Mars on a one-way trip every two years beginning in 2024, with the goal of starting a colony on the distant planet.

The idea of colonizing Mars has certainly been seen in fiction, radio broadcasts, and film since the early 20th Century, but the reality appears to be closer than ever now, and that leads to a variety of intriguing questions, particularly for the legal community.

Will the Mars colony be responsible for creating their legal system? Will they adopt a system from a specific country? Will an individual be able to own their property? What will the repercussions be for committing a crime? The questions are endless.
These questions serve as a strong platform to debate the merits of various legal systems, but we may not be presented with the opportunity to see the hypothetical become reality according to engineers at MIT. Estimates by the team at MIT state that the first crew would only be able to survive on Mars for sixty-eight days because of a combination of oxygen difficulties, food production, and atmospheric pressure. The main objection by the team at MIT is based upon the reliance on today’s technology, which the team does not believe is currently advanced enough to sustain the crews once they arrive on Mars. If the MIT estimates are correct, then 68 days is certainly not enough time to consider worrying about a legal system, but it is still certainly interesting to consider.
Over the next year, the 100 final candidates will undergo further testing, which is expected to include team-building exercises and isolation training. Perhaps I have seen too many science-fiction films and read too many novels, but I cannot help feeling that this training will be unable to produce an environment similar to what these individuals would experience during their journey and while on Mars. I am left wondering what happens when one of the crewmembers “breaks” as is the case in every film and novel. What will happen if there is not a set of laws in place to protect the rest of the colony? I would certainly not want to find out.
Regardless of the final outcome of Mars One, it certainly presents a great talking point. The ability to establish a new legal system would present the colony with a unique challenge. It is also fun to consider what it would be like to be part of the team that establishes Martian law. These questions will not be answered anytime in the near future, but the next time you find yourself at a cocktail party, consider bringing Martian law up as a talking point, I am convinced you will get a few looks. One final note, Mars One is a not-for-profit organization and thus they do accept donations and sell merchandise through their website.