A modern academic looks at the Outer Space Treaty

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

Link here. I could also label this another sign of the coming dark age. Consider her proposals:

Space laws need to be updated for our time. Extending the Outer Space Treaty or writing a new one is unlikely to work, as US hesitancy to sign the [Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects (PPWT)] shows. ‘Soft law’, driven by need, seems the best option for revising the rules for space operators.

Soft law comprises rules or guidelines that have legal significance but are not binding. It sets standards of conduct for agreeing parties, much like those that protect the environment and endangered species. ‘Rules of the road’ and best practices for space should be developed. These could take a similar form to the navigation guidelines set out in the 1972 Convention on International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, which govern when one vessel should give way to another, as well as other interactions.

Soft law works when it is in the interest of all parties to abide by it. If countries and companies want to maintain the space environment as a usable domain, then it is in their interests to accommodate a variety of operations. Space is more complex to manage than air, land or sea because of the distance, physics and technology involved. Just as in the cyber domain, technology has preceded regulation, making it difficult to impose after the fact.

The first focus of an analogous set of space guidelines should be environmental protection and debris avoidance, areas that most spacefaring nations agree on. [emphasis mine]

Rather than fix a bad law, the Outer Space Treaty, that is binding on everyone, she proposes the we make the laws “soft,” thus unreliable because everyone can ignore them whenever they want. The result? Utter contempt for the law.

Then she indicates her main interest, which isn’t exploration or the settlement of the solar system, which is the actual interest of the people who are building rockets and spaceships, but “environmental protection.” Above all, we must establish strict regulations that will prevent those pristine lifeless worlds from being damaged by us evil humans!

If anything is a prescription for stunting the growth of space exploration, this is it. Unfortunately, it appears that this prescription is also the dominate intellectual approach of today’s academic community.


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  • LocalFluff

    A law necessarily encompasses everyone, doesn’t it? We can’t have some people running around murdering people or breaking contracts unpunished, can we? And the OST is not accepted by everyone. The US should make up its own regulation of space and uphold it with its powers. If China has its own internal laws, and if they conquer and island or an asteroid, fine, that’s just a move in the cold war. The US must claim its domain of space, which is everything which it CAN dominate and deter others from infringing on.

    The US need not and should not listen to anyone. Everyone with reason will follow the US leadership.

    When these environmentalists learn that the surface of the Moon or asteroids is “pristine”, they will require that Earth’s surface is turned into a copy of that of the Moon’s!

  • Orion314

    This idea that women are natural born leaders of men is just insanity. Just as crazy as saying men are natural born mommies.
    penis envy will be the death of the male society.

  • Very glad you posted this, Robert. A lot to unpack there.

  • ken anthony

    Elite ‘idiots’ aren’t qualified to make law. Who’s qualified? The colonists that go.

    The frontier was tamed by people that went half way, then had to continue west because those that didn’t tame the frontier stayed in the east and stole the land from those that made it livable.

    Colonists should say yes to everything until they arrive then just say no.

  • wayne

    In the Alternative Soft-Law Universe, Joan might be arrested, rendered, and disappeared.

  • mkent

    I think you misunderstand. The “soft law” discussed in the article is not state or federal law. It is international law below the level of treaty and therefore not legally binding but usually followed anyway.

    A good example is the International Space Station. There is no treaty governing its creation or operation. Yet the rules put in place around it are generally followed by all spacefaring nations. And while “soft” at the international level, those rules are binding at the national level. (For example, if an American company violated the Keep Out Sphere around the ISS without permission from NASA, that company would certainly face legal sanctions by the U. S. government.)

    The author proposes using this framework to solve other pressing problems. From context it is clear that the environment she wants to protect is Low Earth Orbit. Space debris mitigation is a hot topic within professional space circles, and it’s going to be an absolutely huge topic if the large LEO constellations proposed by OneWeb, SpaceX, and Boeing are fielded. If managed poorly, those constellations could create a Kessler syndrome making LEO uninhabitable for decades.

    Overall, I’m impressed by the article. While she gets a detail or two wrong, she’s clearly done her homework. You don’t often see that level of knowledge of space affairs outside of the space press.

  • Edward

    mkent wrote: “Space debris mitigation is a hot topic within professional space circles, and it’s going to be an absolutely huge topic if the large LEO constellations proposed by OneWeb, SpaceX, and Boeing are fielded.

    Amen to that! Debris mitigation is indeed a hot topic. Traffic management is only one part of the solution, but it only works for active, or living, satellites that are maneuverable.
    Fifth, and perhaps most important, the United States needs to determine what principles it wants to promote internationally as the foundation of space governance for the future.

    That particular quote shows a way that “soft law,” the Outer Space Treaty, and orbital debris tie together.

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