Space exploration is the new rave. Is there a need for space Law?
‘Oh look at the Moon, it’s shining so bright, oh Mother it looks like a lamp in the sky’.
Well, folks, you may now happily tell your mothers, that apart from being ‘a lamp in the sky, the Moon is an astronomical body orbiting Earth as its only natural satellite. The rotation of the Moon is synchronized with the Earth, which means that the Moon does its rotation following the Earth. It is the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and its gravity pulls at the Earth, causing predictable rises and falls in sea levels known as tides, and No, there is no old woman up there with an axe breaking up firewood! (sorry, I couldn’t resist that!)
The Moon, stars and celestial bodies, in general, have become very vital to our lives. The resources in the Moon have been discovered to be of immense benefits to man. Solar power, oxygen, metals and asteroids are abundant resources on the Moon. Lunar surface rocks and soils are rich in potentially useful raw materials such as magnesium, aluminium, silicon, iron and titanium. Titanium and aluminium alloys can be used for structural components and silicon-based photovoltaic cells for solar power.Helium-3 (He3) is a gas that has the potential to be used as fuel in future nuclear fusion power plants. There is very little helium-3 available on the Earth. However, there are thought to be significant supplies on the Moon. Several governments have subsequently signalled their intention to go to the Moon to mine helium-3 as a fuel supply.
In addition, so much of our modern lives are governed and supported by space activities, from telecommunications to health and the environment, to GPS-enabled services. It could be argued that space might be the next step in human evolution and technological development. Space is the new frontier. It is the future of humanity.
With the possible potential of the untapped resources in space which can be mined, many turn their attention skywards, because it now appears that the celestial bodies in space may indeed be like diamonds in the sky. Well, if that be the case, we lawyers just have to get our foot in the door! No one’s doing anything up there without us, thank you very much!
With the knowledge that space resources can be profitable, there has been an increase in space visitation and exploration.
The increase of space activity has created a junkyard of orbital space debris. Humans are now leaving biological beings and debris on the moon as a result of the function of satellites, components and tools lost during extra-vehicular activities. This space debris can create navigation hazards to operations and spacecraft satellites in orbit where there is an increased possibility of collision with functioning satellites or interference with the transmission. The number of increasing objects that orbit in outer space as debris is a real problem as they are in millions and this increases the risk of outer space being contaminated by radioactive and other harmful substances. This makes space debris a serious environmental threat in outer space. These hazards may not affect the particular operations which cause them but endanger outer space and a range of terrestrial activities.
The first biological intrusion on the Moon started with Apollo when US astronauts left their excrement bags on the moon; because they wanted to get home safely, they jettisoned as much dead weight as they could. One small step for man and a giant leap for mankind… at the takeaway price of a bag-of-shit!!!This is clear pollution of the heavens, quite apart from all the orbital debris, we leave floating around up there.
In 2018, Japan ran an experiment, landed some very basic small microscopic animals on the Moon and left them there. China also once ran an experiment on the far side of the Moon where she grew lettuce seeds and even silkworms.
Is it okay that these ‘foreign bodies’ were introduced to the Moon?
Should these lettuce seeds and silkworms be returned to earth, what will be their state?
Is it safe that they are reintroduced to earth?
These questions throw up the need to have a planetary protection policy in place to protect us from contaminants coming back from space. The US Apollo astronauts are usually put in quarantine for at least two weeks when they return to earth, sometimes a month. This is the United States ensuring that contaminants from space are not introduced to earth.
The international community on its part must have policies in place to protect man as we make incursions into space. Right now, space is for everybody. No nation can own property in space.
No nation can make any territorial claim in space; everyone can explore space and its resources. However, when States and their nationals decide to mine steroids from the Moon, the international community has to have the right rules and regulations and laws in place so that everybody who would like to mine these asteroids can get the benefits of those resources to all of humanity.
We must be careful to ask ourselves whether biological things are happening on Mars and other planets that we have not had a chance to know much about and how they will affect us if disturbed or brought back home. We must also be careful how we make incursions into space so that we do not interfere with the natural order of things.
If somebody had interfered with the evolution of the earth, for example, perhaps we would not all be here.
There is an old saying: The turkey learns its fate by watching the death of the chickens in its coop; it speaks of learning from the mistake of others. Seeing as how polluted earth and its seas have become even with strict anti-pollution laws in effect, one can easily imagine what mayhem space would be left in without guidance.
It is therefore necessary to have a balance in terms of our curiosity to discover more and mine resources to help us and keep the celestial bodies safe. We must be careful to know what we can take or should not take, how intense we can be etc. The key to all of these is space law and policy: finding that balance and having an open discussion about how activities in space should be conducted, what can be moved into space and what can be taken out, back to earth.