Neil Armstrong captivated the world when he took "one giant leap" onto the moon's dusty surface in 1969.
President Donald Trump – who began his foray into galactic affairs when he championed the Space Force to fight extraterrestrial wars – is looking for his own moon landing moment.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the White House announced Monday an executive order in which Trump calls for U.S. business interests to mine the moon.
Though the order specifies that a return to the moon would allow the country to explore and exploit lunar minerals, it insinuates that the scope of this new era of commercialization would apply to "the moon, Mars and other celestial bodies."
Lunar development would include a search for minerals, as well as water, and this would require partnerships between the U.S. government and private industry.
According to the order, one of the major roadblocks holding businesses back from mining the moon is "uncertainty regarding the right to recover and use space resources, including the extension of the right to commercial recovery and use of lunar resources."
Trump's executive order attempts to advance the scarce legal framework that governs various nations' claims to space. Several international resolutions such as the Moon Agreement have been adopted over the past 50 years, but the administration in its order did not acknowledge the legitimacy of these.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has 180 days to consult with other Cabinet-level positions and the head of NASA before reporting back to Trump on progress made in advancing the decision.
In 2001, NASA landed the first man-made object on an asteroid, leading to speculation that certain rare minerals could one day be mined from rocks hurtling through space. The mining, oil and gas industries have turned to increasingly extreme extraction methods such as seabed strip mining and hydraulic fracturing to access mineral deposits on this planet.
The announcement includes a statement attributed to Trump.
“After braving the vast unknown and discovering the new world, our forefathers did not only merely sail home – and, in some cases, never to return. They stayed, they explored, they built, they guided, and through that pioneering spirit, they imagined all of the possibilities that few dared to dream," it says.
Back on Earth, the federal government has ignored calls to update the main law governing hardrock mining – minerals such as gold and lead – which has gone largely unchanged since it was signed in 1872.
Follow Mark Olalde on Twitter: @MarkOlalde.