Laws keep our schools, homes, communities, countries, planet – and even outer space – peaceful and safe.
On July 21, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong firmly planted an American flag in moon sand. Since then, a total of six national flags have been planted on the moon. Why stake a flag on the Moon? Is the Moon owned by the nations that have planted their flags? Does the US get special privileges for getting there first? There is a space law that answers this very question.
The United Nations
In 1963, world leaders from the United Nations (UN) realized humanity’s dream of reaching the Moon was possible. With this big adventure in mind, the UN began to write a set of laws inspired by the belief that any exploration in outer space would happen only with the intent of making humanity better. Over a period of nearly four years, they answered questions such as, “Can a country own the Moon?” Finally, in 1967, all members of the United Nations signed and formed the Outer Space Treaty.
Since then, humans have gone beyond Earth’s atmosphere to live on the International Space Station (ISS), explore asteroids and research the planet Mars for eventual colonization. The Outer Space Treaty is a set of laws for all space explorers to share ideas and work towards the betterment of life, both here on Earth and in outer space.
These are the principles that make up our outer space treaty:
• All space exploration is for the benefit of all of humankind.
• No nation or individual will own any of the planets, moons, stars or celestial bodies.
• No nation or individual can ever claim any portion of space in the name of research or study for their own reasons.
• All exploration of space will happen in the interest of maintaining peace and security and promoting international cooperation.
• All nations are responsible for activities in outer space. When activities happen in outer space, the nations involved have to follow the space laws and they must let the other nations know what they are doing in space.
• When exploring outer space, all nations will be cooperative and conduct all their activities in outer space in the spirit of sharing their results and findings with each other. If any nation believes that an outer space activity or experiment isn’t respecting the laws of peaceful exploration and use of outer space, the project will be discussed for approval by all nations before the activity can be continued.
• When a nation is allowed to launch a rocket or object into outer space, regardless of its passage beyond Earth’s atmosphere, the object launched into outer space remains the property of the nation that launched it. If the object lands in another nation’s territory, the object must be safely returned to the owner.
• When a nation’s object returns to Earth, that nation is responsible for damage caused by the object to a foreign nation or any person, whether it happened on the Earth, in air space, or in outer space.
• Nations will respect astronauts as representatives of humankind in outer space and will give them all possible assistance in the event of accident, distress, or emergency landing on the territory of a foreign State or on the high seas. Astronauts who make a landing will be safely and promptly returned to their country.
The Outer Space Treaty was the first of five treaties that pertain to outer space laws. Over the years, the United Nations have discussed the freedom of exploration, responsibility for damage caused by space objects, the safety and rescue of spacecraft and astronauts, the prevention of harmful interference with space activities and the environment, and other really important considerations.
These are the five United Nations outer space treaties and principles developed to date:
- The Outer Space Treaty Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.
- The Rescue Agreement Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space.
- The Liability Convention Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects.
- The Registration Convention Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space.
- The Moon Agreement Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.