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Transitioning Humanity for Outer Space Development

Posted: Mon, November 26, 2012 | By:

by Edythe Weeks

It’s 2012 and humankind is at the eve of outer space development. New trends have been put on the agenda via economic policies and laws. These include the development of advanced space transportation systems, new types of spaceships, space habitats, space stations, space settlements, space mining, spacecraft trajectory optimization techniques for landing on near Earth asteroids, spaceport construction, interstellar-interplanetary-international telecommunications and space exploration missions to near Earth asteroids, the Moon, Mars and Mars’ two moons – Phobos and Deimos. After many years of research and development many discoveries have made it now possible to move forward towards exploring out universe in new ways. The Hubble telescope sends pictures of galaxies and our universe consistently. Space science is such that we know a lot more about what’s out there. News announcements regarding Kepler spacecraft’s discovery of habitable earthlike planets is likely to serve as an impetus to spur creativity in the field of interstellar space transportation and connected industries. People feel the need to remind me that historically there have been conflict, wars, inequality, environmental degradation, lack of opportunity, and other negative phenomena. I’ve talked to many people who seem to believe that these patterns will dictate humanity’s future. However, it is important to also remember that history includes great, positive and powerful people who have changed the course of human history. People have accomplished great things for humanity. Philanthropy is real. Love is real. Libraries are real. People living dreams and doing great things to uplift humanity have all been real life changing events. Humankind’s history has also involved many instances of cooperation. Perhaps, more often than war.


Thus, while critically analyzing human history, we must remember to critically analyze the critical analysis, which often leaves out the many ways in which people have truly served other people. Institutions, governments, companies, countries, individuals, publications, websites, documentaries, music, news and many other factors have been used to accomplished positive events for people and society. Consistent with this spirit, it is possible for humanity to plan to use the development of outer space as an impetus to allow people to dream great dreams and to do great things. So far, there are several sites within the outer space development scenario that could prove fatal for this vision of allowing the development of outer space to uplift humanity. There are several potential sites which may cause an impasse to the peaceful, harmonious, cooperative development of outer space. In the essay, I address: unchecked potential for interpersonal cultural conflict; space law and private property rights; ignoring known causes for past wars; and a potential repeat of the history of the conquest paradigm.

Unchecked Potential for Interpersonal Cultural Conflict

International partnerships for new types of space missions to Earth’s moon, Mars and other destinations are becoming a new trend. The United States has been a trendsetter during the various periods of advances in outer space. This is likely to continue, with increased contributions from multiple international partners. However, as new missions, both human and robotic, begin to occur more frequently, and as key actors practice partnering across international boundaries, we should also plan for cultural conflicts to potentially arise between crew members traveling throughout outer space during long duration missions. Spaceships, navigation systems and telecommunications devices may operate just fine, yet a mission may be doomed if people clash. Maximizing the enjoyment and freedom of diverse space travelers will require sensitive, intelligent planning that takes into account the potential for interpersonal human conflict. People are likely to take with them historical, ideological, religious, social, moral, ethical, economic, psychological, institutional social and behavioral patterns, and varying perceptions regarding civil rights and human rights, with an eye towards understanding and explaining potential sites of soft conflict. For example, the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG), a partnership consisting of 14 space agencies (ASI, CNES, CNSA,  CSA,  CSIRO, DLR, ESA,  ISRO, JAXA,  KARI,  NASA,  NSAU,  Roscosmos and UKSA) is a harbinger for future long duration space missions. The ISECG has taken on the goal of developing a long-range human space exploration strategy and aims to send humans to Mars by 2030. In other words, global partnerships and joint ventures are happening more than ever to pool resources to accomplish cheaper missions, faster, to the Moon, Mars, asteroids and elsewhere. Another example of this new trend involves, emerging trends including advanced space transportation systems, private spacecraft development, commercial space habitats, space stations, space settlements, commercial space mining, spacecraft trajectory optimization techniques for landing on near Earth asteroids, commercial spaceport construction, interstellar-interplanetary-international telecommunications and space exploration missions to near Earth asteroids, the Moon, Mars and Mars’ two moons – Phobos and Deimos. Google, Inc. sponsors the Google Lunar X Prize – a $30,000,000 competition GOOG) to encourage a private  robotic race to the Moon. Private companies from around the world were invited to compete to land a privately funded robotic rover on the Moon. [1]

Curiosity Rover on Mars
Curiosity Rover on Mars

Space Law and Private Property Rights 

Private property rights as a concept, in and of itself cannot be blamed for all wars, conflict and inequality. However, the practice of claiming, taking and possessing a piece of territory and/or resources, to the exclusion of others, has often been the source of tension. An interesting point needs to be made about the vast infinite nature of outer space and its resources. On one hand, there is a valid argument to be made that with infinite planets, lands, territories and resources, private property rights are less limiting than here on Earth. On the other hand, an equally valid argument can be made that with infinite resources and territories, why limit territories and resources to one person, company or entity, especially if others may be in need of those territories and/or resources during a mission. 

The issue of whether or not to change international space law so that private property rights are specifically allowable is a hot button issue within a subcomponent group in the space community. Many planning to lead various space business ventures are asserting the argument that private property rights need to be allowed for regions of outer space territory and other space resources so that investors can have an incentive to fund certain types of fledgling space companies. Another argument typically advanced regarding this issue is that without private property rights, clauses in space treaties may be interpreted to require, or force successful companies to hand over a portion of their profits to people who have not taken any risks, made any investments or performed any labor instrumental in causing the ventures to be successful. The counter argument is that the framers (representatives from approximately 100 nations and institutions) involved in the ten years of negotiations which led up to the Outer Space Treaty, intended to prevent outer space from being a future site for conflict and territorial dispute – a wild West. In 1957, when the space law negotiations began, humankind was tired of world war. Decision makers thought about the development of outer space with a lens freshly colored by the destructive outcomes of war and its causes. 

It is important to note that the issue of private property rights and whether or not they should be allowed for newly emerging activities, is separate and distinct from the issue of legality related to companies selling parcels of land in outer space. For example, Lunar Embassy has been selling plots on the Moon for over twenty years. Similarly, Orbital Development requested that NASA pay parking fees arguing that it owns Eros. Based on a claim was established on March 3, 2000, when the founder of the company filed a Class D property claim with the Archimedes Institute. In 2004, [2] the International Institute of Space Law put an end to the uncertainty regarding these particular types of assertions by issuing a formal Board of Directors statement entitled “On Claims to Property Rights Regarding The Moon and Other Celestial Bodies”. It reads, in part, as follows: Claims to own the Moon or parts thereof by private parties have been made for many years, but so far such claims have not been taken very seriously. However, this could change, as “deeds to lunar property” have started to appear, raising the opportunity for individuals to be misled. 

In spite of the recent action taken by the IISL to clarify the issue concerning selling space as real estate, the issue is still unsettled in many ways. This legal step clarifies matters involving uncertainty regarding selling parcels of the Moon or other extraterrestrial real estate. However, it does not resolve the increasingly more important question of how to prevent conquest, conflict, war, inequality and other repeat patterns from humankind’s historical past.  

A perusal of the travaux préparatoires[3] and related documents reveals that the intent of the framers was prevent conflict over exclusionary claims to property related to outer space resources and territories. It is generally understood that the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 provides two ruling principles: “non-appropriation” and “freedom of use”.  Both principles are to be interpreted under the umbrella of being for the “benefit all mankind”. None of these three controlling principles are specifically defined. They are subject to varying interpretations. Whoever has the power to make sure their interpretations will govern, will govern in the future. [4]

This vagueness was not due to poor draftsmanship or lack of foresight into future space activities. Rather, vagueness was brilliantly and artistically built in, for acquiescence. In other words, it was the result of political compromise influenced by the belief that the specifics of future commercial interests was thought to be best left to a future date when it would be more relevant so as not to risk the pressing concern of that time – preventing colonization of outer space and military installations on the Moon by the superpowers. [5] The international community’s primary focus, at that time was to get the US and Russia to sign, at the expense of vagueness.

Ignoring Known Causes for Past Wars

In addition to considering investor morale and incentives for private investment, there are other concerns that should be being discussed as we sit at the eve of outer space development. For example, the recent history of the twentieth century reveals a number of significant wars that were fought. We must not forget them, or their causes. Historians and political scientists have left us with volumes of discussion, complete with theories and beliefs about the causes of war. Despite, the volumes of text on this subject it is quite clear that there is no certain answer. There are many opinions supported by theory, arguments and factual data. For example in Why Nations Go to War, John G. Stoessinger decides not to “dwell on the underlying causes of the world war. Not only have these been discussed exhaustively by leading historians, but I seriously question whether they can be related directly and demonstrably to the fateful decisions that actually precipitated the war” . For example, he critiques historians for being “virtually unanimous in their belief that the system of competitive alliances dividing Europe into two camps in 1914 was a principal factor that caused the war to spread”. He asserts that this is “mechanistic view that undervalues psychological and personality considerations”. Contrary to popular belief, he argues that many of the major wars occurring in the twentieth century were not caused by nationalism, militarism, alliance systems, economic factors or some other basic cause . Instead, he concludes that people went to war because they were “frightened and entrapped by self-delusion” and that people based their policies and actions on “fears, not facts, and were singularly devoid of empathy. Misperception, rather than conscious evil design, appears to have been the leading villain in the drama”. For Stoessinger, in order to understand the reasons for people resorting to war is best seen by focusing on personalities and the psychological dimension of key leaders who made the decisions. His detailed and thorough analysis includes many of the facts surrounding World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the war in Bosnia and “the war over the remains of Yugoslavia”, the series of wars between India and Pakistan in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1998, the wars between Arabs and Jews, Israel and Palestine (The Palestine War of 1948, The Sinai Campaign and the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Six-Day War of 1967, the October War of 1973, the Lebanese Tragedy, and the 1988 Arab-Israeli Conflict); the Iran-Iraq War, the Desert Storm conflict concerning Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and the “new war” against terrorism prompted by the 9/11 bombing of the Twin Towers in New York City’s World Trade Center. The exact reason(s) for these wars might be better understood by an outer space case study. By applying the details and facts concerning the above mentioned wars to a concern that I have for outer space, I have boiled down these facts and circumstances into two reasons why people have gone to war: 1) actions were taken by people to spread their influence into a “new territory”, in order to occupy or control the land and its people, or 2) conflicting ideologies operating to shape hatred, mental enemies, behaviors, actions, fear and/or mistrust. Hence, the territory known as outer space has lots of potential for conflict. The framers of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 understood this point. Space lawyers and policymakers of today seem to have forgotten about this. Activities being planned and articulated for the near future (by states, entrepreneurs, and corporations), once initiated further, may trigger the perception that outer space is being occupied or controlled on the basis of an opposing ideology. However in today’s free market climate, if these actions are taken by corporations, it may take a while for anyone to get suspicious. Since outer space has key ingredients for the causes of all of the above listed major wars, I see the unresolved issues concerning the international space law as potentially cataclysmic.

A Potential Repeat of the History of the Conquest Paradigm

In addition to war, history is packed full of instances of conquest of land. Most were without the bother of negotiating for the transfer of legal title from the prior owners. The Outer Space Treaty contains vague terms regarding key issues., however, one thing is clear from the record of negotiations contained in the travaux préparatoires [6] and related documents, leading up to all five of the outer space treaties, the nations of the world were against ownership of outer space territory. This prohibition applies to individuals, private, corporate, international or governmental bodies. The representatives who worked on creating the outer space treaties were clearly most concerned with preventing future world conflicts over outer space territories. Today’s space lawyers and policymakers seem to be asleep on the issue of outer space being a potential hotbed for world conflict. Furthermore, I would like to add that Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Portugal and Spain partitioned the continent of Africa without first securing title from the actual owners of the land; the Spanish (and others) performed the same conquest over Native America and Mexico; as well as Britain with respect to Aboriginal lands. In addition to blatant exercises of power such as the Mongol Conquest, history is also full of examples of land conquest through subtle economic, trade and ideological exercises of power. Britain’s relationship with India is good example. I do realize that outer space is not currently thought of as real land, and there are no inhabitants that we know of there, yet. However, the point remains that outer space is being spoken of as though it is a new territory for exploration and colonization in books, articles, law journals, space discourses, academic writings and in policy circles. 


Private property rights per se may not cause repeat patterns of conflict and inequality from the past. Nor will they guarantee the success of space ventures. Broad public support from the global society is more likely to ensure success of the building up of the outer space infrastructure. More people are likely to support space ventures if they can see how these advances will benefit them and the people they care about. This can ultimately be more powerful than carving out and promising private property right to a few people.


[1] Artist’s conception and illustration of Kepler-22b, a planet now “known” to “comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star”. Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech accessed 11/24/2012

[2] NASA photo: Curiosity rover landing on Mars.

[3] NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope photo of spiral galaxy ESO 499-G37 accessed 11/24/2012 This image is public domain and its use is permissible.


[1] Several of the ideas and statements contained in this article originated from “Contemplating the Global Citizen Concept as a Method to Reduce Potential Cross-Cultural Barriers Likely to Hinder Peaceful Relations During Long Term Space Missions” a paper presented by Cameron Ashkar and Edythe Weeks at the Global Space Exploration Conference, Session 4: International Plans and Concepts,  Symposium 05, From Earth Missions to Deep Space Exploration, Washington, D.C., May 22-24, 2012  andPreviewing a Series of Potentially Cataclysmic Events” by Edythe Weeks, paper published in the Colloquium Proceedings of the International Institution of Space Law as  IAC-04-IISL.3.11, 55th International Astronautical Federation Congress, 2004.

[2]  In 2009 the IISL Board of Directors issued a second statement further reiterating and clarifying the prohibition against private property rights regarding outer space territory and resources. The 2009 statement further acknowledges that space law provisions are not specifically detailed and that there is room for future determinations regarding this issue. The IISL 2009 statement further suggests that space law be made more specific through a mechanism overseen by the United Nations.  For more information see;; and

[3] For a record of these negotiation go to:

[4] Katrin Nyman Metcalf, Activities in Space Appropriation of Use? (Uppsala: Lustus Forlag, 1999). 

[5] Nandasiri Jasentuliyana, Space Law: Development and Scope (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1992) at 37.

[6] For a record of these negotiation go to:


The Influences

Born in 1964, in the middle of the push to land on the moon, including the Sputnik, Yuri Gagarin, Allen Shepard, John Glen, the Mercury and Gemini missions with John Young and Gus Grissom and eventually the Apollo moon landing.
Growing up outside Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, in a rich agricultural aria, on a small 50 acre hobby farm, the youngest of two sisters and one brother, the stage was set for the impossible dream.
Chester, my grandpa, who I barely remember was doubtful, amazed and totally captivated by the Space Race.
His son Rudy, my dad, was a chip off the old block.
He could not be pride away from the television during the space shots of those heady years.
Admiration and excitement in our home could hardly describe the feelings during the space race.
At 18, I left the small hobby farm and moved to the urban setting of Ottawa to start my working life and eventually start a few businesses.
The impossible dream came into a clearer focus in 1988, during a conversation with an interesting friend, she said she would like a spaceship that could take her children to the Asteroid belt to mine the rocks there, and manufacture living accommodations on location.
She inspired me to pursue the impossible dream.
Business funds will pay start up costs if I can show them a profit upon creation.

By Trevor HM Cooper on Feb 04, 2013 at 8:09am

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