Space Law: The Next GenerationWatch the video
ARCHIVAL (NASA, AUDIO FROM APOLLO 11, 1969):
BRUCE MCCANDLESS (NASA): Columbia, this is Houston reading you loud and clear. Over.
MICHAEL COLLINS (ASTRONAUT): Reading you loud and clear. How’s it going?
BRUCE MCCANDLESS: Oh, it’s beautiful, Mike, really is. They’ve got the flag up now, you can see the stars and stripes.
MICHAEL COLLINS: Beautiful, just beautiful.
ON SCREEN: 50 YEARS AGO, ASTRONAUTS SET FOOT ON THE MOON. TODAY, PRIVATE COMPANIES ARE PLANNING THEIR OWN LUNAR MISSIONS.
ARCHIVAL (KPIX, 8-4-16):
ANCHOR: Moon Express is the first private organization to get approval to send commercial missions to the moon. The ultimate goal is to mine for precious resources like platinum, water and helium-3.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 4-23-17):
BOB RICHARDS (MOON EXPRESS CEO): If you think of the Moon like the eighth continent, we’re traveling across the ocean of space, and we’re going to reap the benefits of a whole new continent of energy and resources.
ON SCREEN: BUT WAIT A MINUTE… WHO OWNS THE MOON?
STEVE MIRMINA: Where there are people, there are going to be disputes. And where there are disputes, thankfully, they’re going to need more lawyers.
ON SCREEN: SPACE LAW: THE NEXT GENERATION
STEVEN MIRMINA: There was no need for space law before there was any objects in space.
ARCHIVAL (NEWSREEL, 1957):
ED HERLIHY: Today a new moon is in the sky – a 23-inch metal sphere placed in orbit by a Russian rocket.
STEVEN MIRMINA (GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER): In 1957, with the launch of Sputnik, there was a reaction around the world, a largely negative reaction based in fear, where countries did not know what that object was that was flying over the country, and they didn’t know if it was going to drop bombs or listen to their conversations. And there was essentially panic across the world, certainly across the United States.
ON SCREEN: IN RESPONSE, THE UNITED NATIONS FORMED A COMMITTEE TO DEVELOP THE RULES OF SPACE EXPLORATION. AND IN 1967, NATIONS AROUND THE WORLD SIGNED THE OUTER SPACE TREATY.
ARCHIVAL (UNITED NATIONS SPACE TREATY SIGNING, 1967):
ANNOUNCER: So far 31 nations have joined in the treaty. The Russian ambassador. Philip Kaiser for America.
STEVEN MIRMINA: What a lot of folks don’t know is that the treaty was actually a disarmament treaty. The U.S. and the Soviet Union agree not to put nuclear weapons in outer space.
ON SCREEN: THE TREATY ALSO ESTABLISHED THE ACCEPTABLE USES OF SPACE.
STEVEN MIRMINA: All countries around the world have the ability to use and explore outer space. But there can be no appropriation of outer space the way Spain conquered South America and said, “I claim this on behalf of Spain.” You can’t claim the moon or an asteroid.
ON SCREEN: TODAY, THE OUTER SPACE TREATY STILL STANDS DESPITE NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN SPACE.
STEVEN MIRMINA: There are three issues that are really new in outer space. One has to do with commercial actors in outer space.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 2-22-19):
NEWS CLIP: SpaceX ’s ultimate goal seems to be to get people onto Mars as soon as possible.
STEVEN MIRMINA: They weren’t really envisioned significantly in 1967, although they were addressed. Outer space debris or space junk. That’s a big and current issue that needs to be looked at in light of the treaties. And the third one has to do with asteroid mining or using resources in outer space.
ON SCREEN: IN 2015, CONGRESS PASSED A LAW ALLOWING U.S. COMPANIES TO MINE RESOURCES IN SPACE.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, THE LATE SHOW, 8-9-16):
NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: The first trillionaire is going to be the person who figures out how to mine asteroids.
ON SCREEN: BUT WHAT ABOUT THE OUTER SPACE TREATY?
STEVEN MIRMINA: It brings up a number of legal issues. Since national appropriation of outer space is forbidden under the treaty, but the U.S. just authorized its citizens to be able to mine outer space and keep the resources, there are some scholars who say that the U.S. is not complying with the treaty, because if the U.S. can’t appropriate outer space, how can U.S. citizens thereby appropriate outer space?
ON SCREEN: COMPANIES ARE NOT MINING IN SPACE YET SO THESE QUESTIONS HAVE NOT COME BEFORE A COURT. BUT THE LEGAL COMMUNITY IS ALREADY DEBATING.
JAMES LEGO (PRESENTING AT THE MANFRED LACHS SPACE LAW MOOT COURT COMPETITION, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER): Good afternoon madame president, your excellencies and may it please the court. My name is James Lego. I, along with my co-agent, Chani Gatto, represent the applicant in this case.
NATHAN JOHNSON (NORTH AMERICAN REGIONAL ORGANIZER, MOOT COURT COMPETITION): The Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition is a competition for law students, not only in North America, but across the world.
JAMES LEGO (PRESENTING AT THE MANFRED LACHS SPACE LAW MOOT COURT COMPETITION, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER): Your excellencies, three quick points on rebuttal. Firstly, as (unintelligible) first contended, abandonment is not possible under the Outer Space Treaty.
NATHAN JOHNSON: They are quoting the Outer Space Treaty, but they also have to depend on the principles of international law. So without a lot of case history in outer space, they’re drawing comparisons to maritime law, to arctic exploration, things that do exist and have some shared aspects.
STEVEN MIRMINA: The moot courts actually are really helpful in terms of helping even the practitioners think about problems in a new way. But Space law is not U.S. centric. A number of other countries have a voice as well. Besides U.S., Russia and China have the ability to launch humans into outer space. India is not far behind. And all countries around the world get a voice.
TEXT ON SCREEN: AS HUMAN ACTIVITY IN SPACE EVOLVES, SPACE LAW MUST EVOLVE TOO.
STEVEN MIRMINA: Everything we do day to day depends on space. I mean, the amount of space technology in our phones and on our persons—you can’t buy a hamburger at the restaurant without, you know, using a satellite in space to pay for it. And space is only going to become increasingly important. So for a new attorney that’s going into space law, it’s the opportunity where you could actually make law.
NATHAN JOHNSON: It is really unformed potential, and it gives people of all sorts of backgrounds an opportunity to think, “Well, if I could extend humanity into outer space, and also be able to rewrite the rules, what would I do?”