Today, Congress passed the SPACE Act, a relatively short piece of legislation designed to protect American mining companies operating in asteroid fields. The freshly minted law isn’t controversial so much as it is forward thinking, which is a nice change of pace. In essence it obligates the government to protect resource companies’ extra-planetary interests. If that sounds like a less than pressing issue, it isn’t: Planetary Resources, a company operated by X Prize founder and Singularity University Chairman Peter Diamandis, has it’s Arkyd-3R test probe docked at the ISS and it’s Arkyd-6 test rocket ready to go.

Plausible as space mining may be, some of the language in the bill is still a bit surprising, even jarring. Here are the subsections worth a second look: 

"Reaffirmation of Policy- Congress reaffirms that the Secretary of Transportation, in overseeing and coordinating commercial launch and reentry operations, should — (1) promote commercial space launches and reentries by the private sector.”

This passage gives a sense of the aggressive way in which the U.S. plans to pursue asteroid. The Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, is the former Mayor of Charlotte, so his continued role as an advocate for and overseer of space travel is either doubtful or ill advised.

“Any asteroid resources obtained in outer space are the property of the entity that obtained such resources, which shall be entitled to all property rights thereto, consistent with applicable provisions of Federal law and existing international obligations.”

The next space race is going to actually be a race. This legislation guarantees the value of making it to any particular resource first. Companies arriving second to any relevant sites will run the risk of harming others’ equipment and paying the price for doing so.

“The item relating section 70103 in the table of sections for chapter 701 of title 51, United States Code is amended by striking ‘space shuttle’ and inserting ‘Space Launch System’”

Congress is on the asteroid mining case, but apparently still a bit out of touch with the space program. The Space Shuttle has been retired since 2011 - well before this legislation was presumably drafted.