There are two sides worth considering in discussions about the privatization of space. The first is the view of cynical realists, who see space development as the next frontier of exploitation. The second is that of the wide-eyed, but critical optimist, who characterizes space development very differently.

But it’s not hyperbolic to say that whatever these big projects turn out to be, humanity needs to be prioritizing equity; and, as unpopular as it is in some circles, it needs to be committed to righting historical wrongs.

There’s a strong and justified suspicion on the left that space development will just replicate earth development: colonialist, imperialist, neoliberal capitalist. In the words of Victor L. Shammas & Tomas B. Holen, space development is a project and paradigm benefitting “a specific set of wealthy entrepreneurs, many of them originating in Silicon Valley, who strategically deploy humanist tropes to engender enthusiasm for their activities . . . the arrival of capitalism in space is fueled by the expansionary logic of capital accumulation” and particularly a hack allowing “capital to transcend its inherent terrestrial limitations.”

But socialists would also be quick to point out that this criticism isn’t intrinsic to the core idea, the science and, to an extent, the technology of space development. Like any collective labor, space development is good if it serves humanity as a whole, for example by allowing for collective reparations and rectification of past wrongs, or if it promotes a reciprocal relationship with the laborers and ecosystems from which the value of such labor comes. However, if it reproduces and empowers the exploitative logic of capital, it’s not good.

This is why it’s important to consider the view of space tech writer David Oni, who, in his case for asteroid mining, points out that Africa is a site of great material oppression around the mining of rare earth metals and critical components of technology (as well as traditional precious metals and diamonds). Terrestrial mining has destroyed much of the environment and trapped countless people into brutal working conditions. “Ongoing mining projects worth more than US$1 billion are taking place in South Africa (PGM 69%; gold: 31%), Guinea (bauxite and aluminum), Madagascar (nickel), Mozambique (coal), Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia (cobalt and copper), Nigeria and Sudan (crude petroleum), Senegal (iron), among others.”

Tech optimists say asteroid mining could save the planet, allowing unlimited extraction of resources at what we currently believe is relatively little environmental cost — presumably none to the “space” around the rocks (although who knows what we’ll learn) and, once we develop renewable rocket power for launches and do most of our productive work in space, at much less cost to earth. On earth, mining will always be disastrous and traumatic: “To establish a mine,” Oni writes, “a portion of vegetation is cleared. This causes deforestation (and eventually, erosion and flooding) as well as the loss of biodiversity, which adversely affect native inhabitants. Leakages and tailing dumpings have raised serious environmental concerns.” But with countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria developing their own technology to join together with current tech giants in China, Russia, and the U.S. the possibility exists that developers from around the world can co-create relief from terrestrial mining.

This doesn’t make the exploitative nature of either capitalism, space tech companies or mining go away. It’s possible that being a space mine worker will be every bit as exploitative and asymmetrical as being an earth-based one. But it does present an opportunity to change the landscape, or in this case change landscape to spacescape, transcend limits and, potentially, open up space to facilitate environmental and humanitarian relief from existing capitalist exploitation on ecologically scarred land.