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Hit the Book: Why Lawyers Will Be Essential to Tomorrow’s Orbital Economy

If the Robber Baron today gives way, the overhead sky could quickly be filled with the constellations of the low-Earth orbit commercial space station while human settlers turn to Mars and settle the Moon. But unfortunately, tomorrow’s interplanetary settlers bring in lawyers, so this isn’t the same bohemian wildwest we saw in the 19th century.

In their new book The End of Astronauts: Why Robots Are the Future of ExplorationDonald Goldsmith, a renowned astrophysicist and scientific editor, and Martin Rees, a British royal astronomer, send robot scouts to human explorers without heavy essentials like life-sustaining systems. I agree with that. But what happens after these synthetic astronauts discover a resource that can be abused, or after some rich Douks declare themselves emperors of Mars? In the following excerpt, Goldsmith and Reese describe the challenges facing the new exoplanet legal system.

Harvard University Press

Excerpt from The End of Astronauts: Why Robots Are the Future of Exploration Published by Harvard University Press by Donald Goldsmith and Martin Rees. © 2022 by Donald Goldsmith and Martin Rees.


Almost all legal systems have grown organically as a result of long experience resulting from changes in the political, cultural, environmental and other circumstances of society. The first buds of space law come from those who may participate in the myriad of activities envisioned in the coming decades, and perhaps those who want to imagine how the Justinian Code would emerge in the realm of space. Notable.

People traveling on spacecraft, and to some extent living in other celestial bodies, occupy the same situation as those on naval vessels that set precedents for dealing with crime and extreme antisocial behavior. These laws typically assign a single officer or group of officers the power to impose judges and penalties that may await examination if they return to the High Court. This model may reappear on the first long-distance journey in the solar system or on the first settlements of other celestial bodies before the advent of the normal structure of the court system of large societies.

But, like on earth, most laws are civil, not criminal. A much bigger challenge than dealing with criminal activity is developing the appropriate code of civil law that applies to national or international disputes arising from the activities of a country, company, or individual in space. For half a century, small stakeholder executives have developed a new discipline in “space law.” Some of them may already be applied soon. What if space debris launched by a particular country or company falls into a group of unsuspecting people or their property? What if astronauts from different countries claim parts of the moon or asteroids? And most important, if not possible, of its potential: if we should receive a message from another civilization, who speaks for the planet?

Meetings on these themes are more interesting than answers. Human exploration of the Moon has brought relevant topics to broader attention and debate. In the 1980s, the United Nations looked like a natural place to hash them, and their discussion ultimately produced the results described in this chapter. Today, some suspect that almost no one knows the documents produced by the United Nations. Moreover, there are plans to support countries that follow the guidelines in those documents.

Our hopes of achieving rational means for defining and limiting activities beyond our home planet require, in addition to a broader agreement, the means to carry them out. Non-lawyers who have read existing and proposed agreements on the use of space usually define words related to special situations as “artistic terms” and give meanings other than those suggested by simple reading. You need to be aware of that.

For example, the word “recovery” in normal discourse refers to regaining the value of lost things, such as lost wages resulting from an injury. In more specialized usage, “resource recovery” refers to the act of recycling otherwise wasted material. But in the mining vocabulary, “recovery” has nothing to do with losing what you once owned. Instead, it refers to the extraction of ore from the ground or seabed. The mild nature of this word is in contrast to the more accurate term “exploitation”. This often means disapproval, but in legal matters it often has only a neutral meaning. For example, in 1982, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea established the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which stipulates rules for most of the seabed outside the jurisdiction of any country. To date, 168 countries have signed the treaty, but the United States has not. According to the ISA website, its mining law “is a complete set of comprehensive rules, regulations, and procedures issued by the ISA to regulate the exploration, exploration, and development of marine minerals in the international submarine region. I will point. ” In the mining industry, no one is blinded by plans to use a particular location by extracting mineral resources. However, space law debates tend to favor “recovery” and avoid the term “exploitation.”

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