On Monday, NASA landed the InSight lander on the surface of Mars. Over the next three months, the lander will use its various scientific instruments to collect data from the interior of the planet. This data will be used to better understand the planet’s geological history, which will deepen our understanding of Earth’s own history. The InSight lander represents a major milestone toward many world superpowers’ ultimate goal of human colonization of Mars.
What’s interesting about this recent success is that it was a NASA mission; a lot of recent discussion about the colonization of Mars has been focused on SpaceX and the ambitious, possibly unattainable, plans laid out by CEO Elon Musk. While Musk has been in the news cycle for some questionable actions, discussion of a Mars space race has already begun, and the inclusion of private entities raises serious questions about the nature of interplanetary space law.
Keeping with the ideals of public ownership and international cooperation — an important aspect in the foundation of the U.N.’s space laws — it is vital that the exploratory actions of private entities must be extremely regulated and all private ownership should be banned. Furthermore, all national space agencies should coalesce into an international space collective, to ensure that space is accessible for all.
The most important document with regard to international space law is the U.N. Outer Space Treaty, which bans countries from militarizing or claiming territory in outer space as well as the prevention of any one nation from claiming a part of outer space. The document itself is relatively progressive, designed to prevent exploitation and extraterrestrial imperialism. The treaty itself, however, only addresses state ownership, and makes no mention of the private ownership of space.
But in this new space age — where technology advances exponentially every day — international law needs to catch up before it’s too late. The importance of space law cannot be overstated, and regulation of private companies is crucial to ensure not only the safety of our environment but the continued exploration of space. The primary goal of regulation would be similar to that of the Outer Space Treaty but geared toward the actions of private entities instead of nation-states. Regulations are also crucial to ensure that space is available to everyone.
There are bodies and organizations through which this issue can be formally addressed. Several subsequent treaties, such as the Rescue Agreement and the Moon Treaty, have been ratified by the U.N. in addition to the outer space treaty, allowing laws to change as times and technology change. However, more so than laws and regulations, national attitudes about space exploration need to change as well. The idea of a “space race” is so fundamentally capitalist and harmful in nature, contradicting the fundamentally communal premise of space law.
Further internationalization of space exploration can only be beneficial. Increased international cooperation means a greater pool of resources, which can be used to conduct more missions. Moreover, would set precedent for direct international cooperation on concrete policy issues. This could be done through the U.N., and the creation of a new organization, given specific powers with regard to space exploration, that anyone from around the world could join and take part in. For now, a simple political alliance between all national space agencies would be a great start. Either way, the successful internationalization of space policy could have dramatic consequences for all other areas of policy. In discovering how to explore space with one another, the world can learn how to solve other problems together, like access to healthcare or climate change.
Universal space exploration must be argued for from a moral perspective even more than from a practical one. What child didn’t dream of being an astronaut at some point in their life? Space exploration represents the fullest extent of human capability. It also represents a new path forward, a place to start over again.
The process of exploring space is quintessential to the human experience, and study of celestial objects predates written history. To insist that space exploration should be for all is to recognize the fact that the universe does not belong to anyone. Space exploration by private companies seeks to impose principles of private property and private ownership on something that should not be owned. As the world continues to explore and push the boundaries of the known universe, it is crucial to the future of humanity that space exploration be available through a public and international body. This is the only way to ensure that all can have the opportunity to take the next small step for man.
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