As humanity becomes a spacefaring civilization, we’re going to come up with tricky situations that challenge current laws and concepts of nationality. For example, what’s your country if you’re born on the Moon? Or if two astronauts get into a fight while in orbit, whose laws are followed? If you break a piece of an international module, where do you send the cheque? During a recent conference in Europe, scholars and space scientists met to propose unusual circumstances that might happen in space exploration
Law in space is currently covered by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. It’s been ratified by 98 states, and follows the tradition of maritime law – states have legal jurisdiction within their own spacecraft. But what happens when a spacecraft has been built by several nations, such as the Columbus laboratory module, due to fly to the International Space Station in December.
The recent conference, called Humans in Outer Space â€“ Interdisciplinary Odysseys was held on October 11-12 in Vienna, Austria.
The partner nations working to build the International Space Station have already rejected a proposal that the entire station falls under US law.
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“It was agreed that each state registers its own separate elements, which means that you now have a piece of the US annexed to a piece of Europe annexed to a piece of Japan in outer space, legally speaking”, said Dr Frans von der Dunk of the International Institute of Air and Space Law at the University of Leiden.
Since each module is operated by a different nation, that sort of works. But in the case of the Columbus module, it was built and operated by several European nations. Since it’s a collaboration, it can’t be registered to any single state since there isn’t an entity called “Europe”.
There are issues of criminal law; what if one astronaut from one country punches another while in an international module? There are also patent law problems; where should an invention be patented? And there are civil law concerns; what happens if an astronaut damages a part of the station?
The meeting looked far into the future too, when bases are established on the Moon and Mars. Since the 1967 treaty defines the Moon for the good of all humanity, it can never be considered a territory of any country back on Earth. So what nationality would a child have?
The 1979 UN Moon Agreement provides rules on how nations should explore the Moon, but doesn’t go beyond to issues of civil and criminal law.
For now, if you’re born on the Moon, you’re from nowhere on Earth.
Original Source: ESF News Release