The UN Outer Space Treaty

As Jerry Stone told us  in a seminal presentation at the BIS on 31 January, after Apollo 11 had  landed the first men on the moon, researchers at Princeton University posed a question: is a planetary surface, for example Earth, the right place for an expanding technological civilisation?

No – the best place is in outer space. We should construct an infrastructure in space which fits the needs of its people. There could be plants, trees, even bees to pollinate the plants. Everything necessary for the survival and well-being of human beings. Industries should be moved to space to reduce pollution on Earth.

This thought occurred before we were even aware of the magnitude of climate change and the relevance of this has only now increased. Having a new frontier would also reduce the risk of war. Why stick to one planet when we have a sky full of them? No need to fight over borders. Thus, Jerry Stone founded the “Space Project”, aimed at examining the idea of doing this today after the advancements in technology from the 1970s.

Technology has expanded our borders. But a new habitat, now made available, requires new law. Until the end of the Second World War in 1945, no legal framework existed. If you owned an acre of land you owned everything above, including that part of space. Given the widening of the areas we could explore, and potentially inhabit, a change was clearly necessary.

The UN Outer Space Treaty came about because the current legislation had become obsolete. Now, the treaty prohibits nations from claiming ownership to a celestial body. Founded by Arthur C. Clarke, a central figure in the BIS, it stated that any activity in space must be done for common interest and not for economic gain. Exploration in space must be for everybody.

Article two states that there is to be no national sovereignty of any area of space. Space must remain open for everyone. Article six claims that there is statutory liability for non-governmental entities; if anything happens in space, it is the government who is liable for the consequences of that activity.

The tenets of the Outer Space Treaty have gained universal acceptance and it has been ratified by 105 countries. As we have seen, there is emphasis that space exploration must be communal. However, as poorer countries had realised, there might be a situation in which wealthy countries could utilise space and become richer still, leaving the rest of the world behind. Against this, article eleven states that any exploration and utilisation of space must be for the common heritage of mankind. There must be equitable sharing of resources and knowledge, it says.

Again, any exploration and use of space must remain open for all mankind. In closing, Jerry suggests that maybe one of the best ways to enact change would be for individuals to meet to discuss these issues, without disclosing which country they are from. However, this would not eliminate bias because the individuals would still argue for the option which was best for their own national interest.

To finish, he mentioned that his friend Stephen Baxter sees the common heritage principle as legislation from the future. Given the new expansive borders, humankind could finally be at peace.

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