A constitution governs every country, and the International Law rules the entire world but what laws does one follow in space? Humans have been traveling to space for over half a century now, but do the activities during space travel follow some international code of conduct?
The international treaties and agreements that govern space exploration have been in place ever since man’s first trip to space. The first and the most important of these agreements was signed in 1967, signed and ratified by 105 countries across the world. The Outer Space Treaty just celebrated its 50th anniversary on January 27th, this year.
The treaty has worked great through all these years, but the new space challenges and missions have begun to question if the same deal should last any longer.
The first and the foremost requirement from the signees was that the outer space would only be used for peaceful purposes and no weapons of mass destruction would be employed. Another point in the treaty required that no country can lay their claim on a celestial territory such as the moon or another planet.
Both the points seem logical, but they have been challenged ever since the beginning of the space travel. In 1976, at the Bogota Declaration, a group of eight countries claimed ownership of the segment of orbit that was above their land. The countries declared geostationary orbit as a natural resource of them which did not fall under the category of ‘outer space.’ The international community, ultimately, rejected the declaration.
Just ten years ago in 2007, China shot one of its polar orbit weather satellites FY-1C, with a ballistic missile leaving tons of debris in the Earth’s orbit. The event raised outrage from the international community, but the country was not declared to have violated the treaty as the missile does not fall under the definition of ‘weapons of mass destruction.’
The Bogota Declaration and the Chinese satellite-based incidents leave us to think that while the treaty has managed to last 50 years, it still consists of significant loopholes. Some private companies have exploited the treaty in an attempt to sell lunar plots to people justifying that technically, the act is not a national appropriation because the ‘companies’ are not ‘countries.’
A Space Act of 2015 was passed to cover up the loopholes. The act allows US citizens to explore and exploit space resources. The statement seems to undermine the treaty, but another clause in the act states that the US does not lay claim to any space resource. The act again appears to be conflicting its statements.
The Outer Space Treaty has been around for half a century now, and while being true in its essence, the treaty is in dire need of some updates, keeping in view the political and commercial situations which were not of concern when the agreement was first signed.
Here is a video of the signing of Outer Space Treaty.
We would like to know your thoughts on these events. Do you also think that this treaty needs an upgrade? Comment below!