One Nation or All Nations: Who Should Make the Laws of Outer Space?
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The Trump administration and the Republican Congress have recently taken steps to unilaterally extend U.S. law and economics into outer space. The bill passed by the House of Representatives would grant property rights to any U.S. person or corporation that gets to a space resource first. The newly-proposed “Space Force” would be charged with protecting such economic interests. "Space is a warfighting domain," declared Vice-President Pence, quoting from President Trump's Space Policy Directive. "It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space."
The current Outer Space Treaty, adopted in 1967, bans countries from claiming any territory on the Moon or other celestial bodies. The follow-up treaty proposed by the United Nations (the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, commonly called the Moon Treaty) declares that outer space is the "Common Heritage of Mankind" and requires an international framework of laws to ensure the “orderly and safe development” of space resources and the sharing of benefits with less-developed countries. The declared purpose of the Treaty is "to promote on the basis of equality the further development of co-operation among States in the exploration and use of the moon and other celestial bodies" and "to prevent the moon from becoming an area of international conflict." It has so far been adopted by 18 nations, but not the United States or any other space-faring nation. Go to www.spacetreaty.org for more information.
Sharing the benefits of outer space is not just a pipedream. China has just signed an agreement with the United Nations to allow smaller countries to conduct experiments on its space station. The U.N. also recently approved a project that would fly experiments from developing countries aboard Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser space plane; the project still lacks funding. For details, go to http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/psa/hsti/FreeFlyer_Orbital_Mission.html
In December 1968, our view of the world changed, literally. As Apollo 8 first rounded the Moon, the astronauts on board were suddenly overwhelmed as humans saw the Earth rising above the lunar horizon for the first time. The picture taken at that moment (above) showed our beautiful planet hanging in the vastness of space. Humanity as a species began to realize that we are all one, living together on a fragile planet hurtling through the cosmos.
But even though no borders were visible, war and suffering continued to wrack our home world. In the half-century since, people have begun to lose faith in their governments, their private institutions, even in humanity itself. Every day we wake up to the news of yet another mass killing, more terrorist attacks, the disastrous effects of climate change, and an increased threat of nuclear war. Our governments seem to care more for corporations than the people, and the corporations seem to put their bottom line above everything else. The people of Earth are beginning to despair, wondering if there is anything they can really believe in. They are losing hope.
The mission of the Moon Treaty, and the Space Treaty Project, is nothing less than to restore that hope, to give the people of our planet a future they can believe in. To counter the despair of war and violence and neglect. We have a unique opportunity to set an example and create a new future for humanity, to build that shining city on a hill that will light the way for all.
It has been 500 years since the world has had such an opportunity to start anew. At that time, we chose to perpetuate slavery, military conquest, and economic exploitation, all of which caused misery and countless wars. And when the Industrial Revolution came along, we placed profits ahead of people, resulting in economic and environmental catastrophe. Much of humanity stopped believing in our ability to control our own destiny.
We can change that. But we must act now. There will be only one time when humanity leaves its home world, only one chance to create a new pattern that will lead each of us, and all of us, to our best destiny. That time is now. Please join in this effort to restore hope and create a better world – and a better universe – for all of us. As Klaatu reminded us, the choice is ours.
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