As space travel becomes routine and private enterprise gets a foothold in low Earth orbit, it is becoming clear that specialists in the field of space law are required. Until now, lawyers here on the surface have extended their knowledge into space, but there will be a time when terrestrial lawyers will need to be superseded by a space equivalent. For example space lawyers could wrangle who is accountable for the space debris left behind after a satellite gets shot down. What happens if a nation accidentally (or deliberately) destroys another nation’s spy satellite? Does this cause retaliation with global consequences or can the dispute be easily settled in “Space Court” with the help of space lawyers? These are extreme examples, but space lawyers may eventually become a part of everyday life for manned excursions into the cosmos. To mark the beginning of this new era of law, the first space law student graduated from the University of Mississippi on Saturday…
Michael Dodge from Long Beach, Mississippi, graduated last weekend with a special distinction with his degree from the National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law, University of Mississippi. This marks the beginning of a new era for the legalities in the space travel as Dodge is the first ever US space lawyer.
The university is unique in that it offers the only dedicated aerospace law curriculum in the US which is accredited by the American Bar Association. The degree requires courses in US space and aviation law, international space and aviation law, and remote sensing. Dodge also had to carry out independent research, contributing to the publication of the Journal of Space Law.
“Once I came to the law school, I read that there was an attorney here that specialized in space law. After that, I became curious as to why space needed regulation, and how legal regimes could be constructed to govern such an expanse.” – Michael Dodge
The future promises to be good business for Dodge, as more and more technology and private corporations are launched into orbit, disputes will be commonplace. Recently, the Chinese and US shoot down of satellites caused international condemnation; the left-over debris is considered to be a huge risk to the future of space travel. In this case, what would happen if a multi-million dollar satellite were damaged by an orbiting piece of space junk? Could the satellite owner take legal action against the organization that littered low Earth orbit? Even mundane disputes such as confrontations on the International Space Station would require a specialist’s knowledge in the laws of space.
Many people would argue that there are already too many lawyers here on Earth, but it looks like space lawyers will be a necessary part of mankind’s big step into a new legal frontier…