THE ENCYCLOPEDIA GALACTICA
THE ASTEROID BELT
Situated between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter is the rubble-strewn asteroid belt, a collection of rocks which range in size from grains of sand right up to moon-sized chunks. Although there have been suggestions that they are the remains of a planet, perhaps one destroyed by the Martians far in the past, it is generally thought by the more traditional scientists that the asteroids are primordial objects left over from the formation of the Solar System, which never successfully coalesced into a planet.
The exploitation of the asteroid belt began in the early days of space colonization, driven by multi-national corporations and their need for new sources of minerals and other resources, having used up all those easily available on Earth. But the number of asteroids, and the size of the belt as a whole, prevented any one organization from gaining a monopoly, and left plenty of scope for small companies and intrepid individuals to mine the rocks for wealth.
It didn't take long for settlements to spring up on the larger asteroids to service the asteroid miners, and these were swiftly followed by colonies that wanted to set up societies independent of control from Earth. While the Earth government (which later became the Galactic Administration) ensured that colonies on the major planets and moons remained under its control, they realized the futility of trying to control the asteroid belt, and allowed those who settled there to go their own way.
During the reign of Ming, many chose to flee to the asteroid belt to escape his excesses. For such a control freak, it was surprising that Ming did not attempt to assert his authority in the belt; perhaps even he realized what a difficult, if not impossible, task that would be. Today, the Galactic Administration continues its hands-off policy and does not govern the asteroid belt. It collects no taxes from the inhabitants, and provides no services. This has allowed many experimental societies with all manner of forms of government to flourish. Most of them have little or no contact with the rest of Sol, and do not welcome visitors. Only a few asteroids have decided to become a part of the Sol economic system, and have welcomed Armstrong Cuthbert and the Imperial Trading Guild. The Imperial Navy keeps the routes to and from these asteroids clear of debris, providing safe paths for visitors; access to the other asteroids is a chancy business and is not recommended with standard navigational equipment.