Erika Nesvold: Thank you Andrés. We’re gonna wait one second till I can count to three on this stage. Well maybe I’ll get started while we wait for Amanda, who I have been told has arrived.
So as Andrés mentioned my name is Erika Nesvold. I’m an astrophysicist and the developer for a video game called Universe Sandbox, which is an astronomy simulator. But in my spare and unpaid time, I’m the cofounder of a nonprofit that we started just at the end of last year called The JustSpace Alliance which I started with Lucianne Walkowicz who unfortunately couldn’t be with us today. Hello Amanda.
Amanda Nguyen: Hi!
Nesvold: Nice to see you. Come join us. Oh you know, you’re going to talk next. I should let you stand.
Alright, so. The panel that I’ll be talking about right now we’ve titled “Law & Order, or Game of Thrones?” because it’s always good to get in the pop culture. We’ll be talking about the legal landscape of space exploration and space settlement. Which sounds like the last panel sort of got into. One thing I’m really interested in talking about is how we codify our values about how we want to use space and who we want to be in space into a legal framework that can protect all of us.
On the panel we have Henry Hertzfeld, who’s the Director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. And Yuliya Panfil, who’s the Director of the New America Future of Property Rights program.
But first, we’ll be hearing from Amanda Nguyen, who is a board member of the JustSpace Alliance and the CEO and cofounder of Rise, which is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to protecting the civil rights of rape and sexual assault survivors So Amanda’s going to start us off with a brief talk, sort of a provocation to get us started, and then we’ll have a conversation.
Amanda Nguyen: Hello everyone. How’s everyone doing today? [silence] Wow. I know the coffee hasn’t hit yet but it’s 3:00 PM. How are you guys doing today? [some response] Awesome. I’m a super nerd so I always like being in New America. Not saying you guys are nerds but I do have to say rest in peace Daenerys Targaryen, the queen of my heart. I actually just joined this panel specifically because you named it that, Law & Order vs. Game of Thrones.
So, most people know me for my activism. By day I’m an activist, by night I’m a nerd. No, I’m always a nerd. But my background’s in astrophysics. So I specifically do exoplanets. I worked on Kepler at the Harvard Center for Astrophysics and then at NASA headquarters. I think Alex MacDonald is speaking here? Which is really awesome. Alex! Also a fellow nerd.
But, I had life happen to me. So I’ll just start off with the legal side. My dream is still to be an astronaut. And I think that both astronauts and activists have one very important common trait and it’s that you have to be pathologically optimistic in both things. One, to get on a rocket and be shot into space, and the other to try to convince people like Congress (sorry, if any of you are on there) to work…work.
But I fell into my activism because I needed civil rights. So, one of the most pivotal conversations that I had was after I was raped, I went to the hospital, had a rape kit procedure done—it’s evidence collection—and found a broken criminal justice system. And I remember walking into the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center; there weren’t enough seats for us in the waiting room. And I thought to myself if I have the resources that I do, then what is everybody else going through? And at this time I…you know, I still wanted to be astronaut, and one of my mentors, Leland Melvin, he’s an astronaut. You might know him from a very viral photo of his official astronaut photo with two dogs. But I’ll never forget it. He said, “Amanda, space is gonna be there. It’s gonna be there after you. So if you want to go fight for rights and change law, then you should go do that.”
And I really took that to heart. But in my activism work, space has always propped up. So, long story short I decided to rewrite the law and pass the Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights unanimously through Congress; became the twenty-first bill in US history to do so on an on-the-record vote in both chambers of Congress. And then after president Obama signed that, we’ve passed now a totals of twenty-seven laws in the past twenty-six months. Which I’m really proud of.
But everywhere we go, our ice breaker has always been space. Because space inherently is a shared sky, you know. And so, the work that we do now, which is focused on bringing the activism to a global sphere, actually has really direct overlay with space. Actually just yesterday, I was with the NASA administrator at the Australian embassy, where they shared a story about Apoloo 11. During Apollo 11, the images from the moon were not clear. And the California satellite receptors got the images upside down. And so NASA reached out to Australia, which happened to have the right-side-up image, and together that was the collaboration, between NASA and Australia, to let the rest of the world see what was happening on our moon. I think that everyone who was alive at that moment remembers right where they were when they saw that image. And the stories that come from space exploration, that come from science fiction, are so important. And the law is just another way of telling a story. It’s a story of who we are. Our principles, our values, and our shared humanity.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the overview effect. Everywhere we go, when we’re talking about human rights, and when we open up with space to break the ice, every single country has their own culture and has their own stories about the stars. But the thread that runs through this fabric has always been about what it means when justice does not depend on geography. And as we’re looking at the legal landscape of our future, you know, we have a chance to not reimagine, but to imagine what it looks like when we step forward with thought, and we step forward having an orbital perspective.
I’m talking to a crowd that is predisposed to know about the overview effect, but for those who don’t know, many astronauts when they go into space for the first time experience this cognitive psychological experience whereby everything that’s ever lived or died is on this pale blue dot. And so it fundamentally transforms them. Some might call it an existential crisis. But others call it the overview effect, where astronauts leave Earth as technicians but return to Earth as humanitarians. And this idea that we are all together is I think very profound. It’s what drives my activism, and is something that I look forward to discussing on this panel today. So thank you.
Erika Nesvold: Thank you very much Amanda. So I just want to start off our discussion of legal systems in space by talking about property rights. For a couple of reasons. One is that we have some experts in property rights on the panel. One is that it seems to be where a lot of today’s conversations are when we talk about legal systems in space, because we’re in these early days of people who are planning to do research, extraction, or want to use territory in space, but we don’t yet have a really consistent way to talk about who has the rights to do that or at least not everyone understands what the system in place is. And the third reason I want to start off by talking about that is because as Armstrong so eloquently explained in the first panel, so much else comes out of land and who has the right to land and who has access to land. So many other potential injustices.
So to start off with, I’m hoping I can ask Henry to give us a quick primer on the current status of property rights in space. I know you can probably talk for some time on this. But I know that the Outer Space Treaty always comes up in these conversations and maybe some of our audience hasn’t heard about it. So maybe you can give us a quick background.
Henry Hertzfeld: Actually I think it’s more appropriate not to talk about specific property rights but to talk a little bit about the Outer Space Treaty and the framework of space law. Goes back, of course the Outer Space Treaty was drafted in the 1960s. There was precedent before that, and it came into effect in force in 1967.
So it’s been around for a long time, and it is basically a set of principles. It’s been written by states, and it applies to human activity and use and exploration of space. And it is nationally oriented. But we have international regime. And the principles do include things like international cooperation. Space is for the benefit of all mankind, the province of all mankind; these are words in the first article of the Outer Space Treaty.
But the interesting one in this case really is Article II. Article I says no nation may appropriate any celestial body by any means, including sovereignty, or by any means of use. It’s an interesting article. When you look at the Travaux préparatoires, which is the French name for basically the conversations leading up to the treaty, the main focus of that, and I’m referring back to our first conversation, was not to repeat the idea, the province of colonialism from earlier times. So the space in an essence is an area where there is no sovereignty. The land and land rights really are not there.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t property rights in space. Anything that any nation, any body, puts into space is their property. Not only that, there’s no way to not be responsible or liable for that property. You can sell it. But that doesn’t really absolve you from being a launching state.
Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty is also very important. It says that essentially states have an international responsibility for their activities in space. And there’s a line in there that includes not only governmental national activities but those of non-governmental, corporate, or individual activities as well. It’s the only industry, the only sector that I’m aware of where states have taken not only the responsibility but in Article VII the liability, financial responsibility, for what they do.
They’re also required to authorize and continually supervise the activities of their citizens. So that when we worry about corporate activity, when we worry about individual activity, they need to get, under the current regime, a license—permission—from the government. And really the elements that we focus on for that permission are safety in space, and then the financial responsibility. And safety can include not interfering with others’ activities in space. It calls for international collaborations in other parts of the treaties. So that today space is not an area without law.
The other side of the coin is that the treaties are not self-enforcing. Nations have to pass the laws to enforce these treaties. As pointed out earlier, nations have different cultures. They look at things differently. And they sometimes interpret these treaties slightly differently. But still we have a framework. We have something to start with, reflects through the politics and values of the 1960s, but the ideals that are there of using space for peaceful purposes. And one of the main things, a sort of side-issue to this conversation, not to have nuclear weapons of mass destruction placed on celestial bodies or in orbit. I think that’s important.
But it is an environment of cooperation. We have some precedents in the world that are maybe better examples than New Amsterdam. Antarctica is one. And then we have the International Space Station. And behind that, you have an international agreement among those nations participating. And a code of conduct. So we’ve thought about a lot of these problems. Have we solved all of them forever, no. But we have been able to cooperate internationally and to develop a regime up there of exploration and science.
I personally am not worried about settlements. I think they’re so far in the future that we can’t predict what they’ll look like. We can’t even predict— We can’t even keep human beings, particularly a lot of human beings, alive in space or have real settlements, the way we envision a colony or a settlement. I don’t think the lack of sovereignty is going to hurt any of this. We can have international agreements that guarantee some sort of a right to use parts of space without the sovereignty, the ownership, the borders, and so on.
Anyway, I think that this is set up differently than some of the explorations of the past. But, it’s fragile. It doesn’t mean that it will actually work out that way. But we don’t know how it will work out, and that’s going to be the challenge for particularly the young people here as we learn more and can do more in space, and develop new technologies.
Nesvold: So you mentioned that you don’t foresee a lot of these issues being a problem because you think it’s so technologically and maybe physiologically difficult to live in space that this shouldn’t be a problem—
Nesvold: —in the near term. But, I certainly hear that argument whenever any sort of space ethics are discussed, is why do we need to worry about it now? One thing I think that I value about conversations about space is that people are so enthusiastic about space that you can often use that enthusiasm to talk about issues that we’re having on Earth. So to that end, Yuliya, maybe could you tell us why do property rights matter here on Earth today? Some of the issues we’re having. And then how you can foresee that mattering space, assuming we ever solve our technical challenges.
Yuliya Panfil: Sure. Thank you and thanks to my co-panelists. So, I have to say at the outset that I’m a little bit of an interloper into the outer space discussion because my primary area of work and study is land rights and property rights here on Earth. And again, I guess to some extent most of us are interlopers into outer space.
So, why do land and property rights matter here on Earth. Broadly, I would bucket that into a few different reasons. One is for the reason of conservation. So in order to take care of a resource, you have to value it to some degree, right. So assigning rights, whether they’re private rights—private property—or communal rites, whether they’re ownership rights or use right rights, or other types of rights, develops a system whereby people can cooperate to conserve valuable resources.
Another one, which was touched on earlier is cultural reasons. For many people around the world land is not just the place where you put your house, right. It’s your unit of belonging in a society. It’s the unit through which you measure your culture and your society’s history.
And then the third, probably the one that’s clearest in a way in the American…modern American capitalist context is as a means of wealth creation, right, the classic formula of land plus labor equals wealth. So when you apply labor to land, you are able to reap a profit. Property rights are important in that sense because people will invest in a resource only if they are secure in their ownership or future use of that resource, right. So, the example here on Earth— A lot of my work in the past has been with cocoa farmers, for example. A farmer won’t plant a tree on land that they have insecure rights over because in the ten years that it might take the tree to grow, that farmer may be kicked off their land and then their investment will be all for naught, right.
So in a sense, giving people comfort that they will not be kicked off of their land or territory encourages them to invest in it. Another easy example is renting versus owning, right. The types of upgrades that homeowners make to their homes are quite different than those that renters will make, because a homeowner knows that they will be staying in that home long-term.
So that’s just, you know… I mean, there’s a plethora of reasons for which property rights are important. Those are a few of them.
But to kind of take it back up to space, this idea of being assured that…or secure in our investment, I think that this is something that’s playing out right now with private corporations and the US Space Act of 2015, right? So the US Space Act of 2015 grants property rights to mining companies and other companies over resources that they may extract from space. So, in a way this is a dialing forward of the concept of securing your property rights. Realistically, a company is not going to finance an extremely expensive mission to a different planet or an asteroid if they won’t be assured that whatever they would want to extract there is going…that they would have a legal claim to it.
Now that’s not me arguing in favor of the 2015 Space Act. I think that there’s several problematic aspects to it. But I think that that’s sort of the dialing forward of the “why property rights is important” lens that in part led to the negotiation and passage of that act.
Hetzfeld: Let me comment for a minute on that. I was involved in that act. And basically you’re right. There were two companies in the United States that were planning toward raising money to mine an asteroid, to take something from space, on the belief that it was valuable. The fact that resources [are] in space, we know. Whether they’re valuable or not we don’t. Both companies have gone out of business. But, they needed an assurance from the United States government, because they were both US companies, that if they did and they needed to get investment that our government would not say, “Oh no, it belongs to us.”
And Congress…there were representatives from both parties that sponsored the bill. And eventually, after several years in the making with an earlier bill that didn’t go through. But it was a baby step. And it didn’t say anything about extraction. That’s where I wanted to be clear. It gave the right of companies or individuals to own resources that they obtain in space. They did not define in that act what obtaining is, what a claim is, or a lot of underlying regulatory issues that would have to be addressed in the future.
Today I think there’s a realization that even trying to find things on the moon, doing the R&D, as we go governments are going to be doing that as well as governments contracting or partnering with companies, we’re talking seven to ten years from now. And whether there is any value in them or not believe me is a very serious question. And there may or may not be. I can’t answer that. I don’t think anybody can. There are a lot of proposals out there.
Even water. It’s not pure, no matter where it is in space. Is it cheaper to do that or is it cheaper to launch a block of ice up there if you want to have water up there? I don’t know the answer to that. And that is what we are doing. We are in a research and exploration mode. But, we have—the United States, Luxembourg has a law, some other nations are thinking about it, as to whether— And, parenthetically, we think that the proper interpretation of the Outer Space Treaty and our treaty obligations. There are developing nations and others for different reasons that don’t think that is within the obligations. So there’s going to be a lot of discussion in the future, this is not a settled issue internationally.
But we’re giving our companies the opportunity to give it a try. That’s really all we’re doing.
Nesvold: So there’s another aspect of this I want to talk about. Yuliya mentioned this classic equation of land plus labor as wealth. That’s how you get wealth out of the territory that you own, you apply labor to it. But as much as land rights and property rights are being discussed by a lot of policy and law people, there doesn’t seem to be too much discussion of labor rights. And perhaps that’s because the Outer Space Treaty directs the governments to supervise the activities and presumably protect the rights of laborers.
But Amanda, this is actually a leading to a question for you, which is that aside from property rights, as someone who has a background in fighting for legal protections for people, what sort of other concerns you have about space that you feel we should have more of a legal structure to protect people for?
Nguyen: Well, fundamentally in my opinion, the law isn’t morality, right. I make a living out of reforming the law. And a lot of people often ask me you know, “Why is the law a certain way for a certain group of people?” Most of the laws I’ve written are for the United States, and so in particular for me the laws’s a gender. That gender is not female.
And when we we’re talking about institutions and we’re talking about space—space law—or the ability to, again, think of the way that we’re going to regulate ourselves, of course this gives us the opportunity and chance to think about well, who are those people? The laborers. And what kind of institutions are we trying to set up. Space has so much power not only in the legal sense but also in the diplomatic sense. You know, for me pandas and space are the two things that get everybody happy. Space has so much soft power in it, you know.
It was really funny yesterday at the Australian ambassador’s residence. The NASA administrator straight up said that he was there because Australia invited a senator from the Appropriations Committee, and so they brought an astronaut to—between the administrator and the astronaut—in their remarks about “mateship” they call it, between the United States and Australia, the reason why the Appropriations Committee should give more resources to NASA. But in this sense, too, we see a different form of international cooperation in the International Space Station. You’ve mentioned this before, where it’s about survival. There there are certain needs that come first. But one of those needs in my opinion are the needs of laborers and people. So it is important as we think about architecting the future that everyone is included in that future.
Nesvold: The Outer Space Treaty, you two had an excellent conversation backstage that maybe we can replicate about the Outer Space Treaty, which is Yuliya I think I read a piece of yours recently suggesting that we perhaps need to revisit the Outer Space Treater or replace it. Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts on that?
Panfil: Yeah. And I think that we were being a bit provocative posing the question “Do we need a new Outer Space Treaty?” And I think that… Actually I think that this was something that was mentioned in your podcast. Which is excellent. Please listen to it. But you know, it’s that when you read a treaty the first thing you should look at is the date. The date on which it was ratified. Because really, I believe that treaties are a product of their time. And as Henry mentioned at the time, the Outer Space Treaty was negotiated in the 60s. The major issue that was at the forefront of the global collective’s mind was the possibility of nuclear war between the USSR and the United States, and this kind of two-nations space race.
So, from my reading the two most critical things that the Outer Space Treaty does is it says we can’t put nukes up in space. And it says that no country can appropriate a celestial body. So it limits sovereignty claims in outer space.
But other than, that it’s quite broad and vague. And that’s partly by design, because at the time it was negotiated we really didn’t have the capability for space exploration. Not even thinking about settlement or asteroid mining or any of these things. It was I think almost inconceivable that a— [recording skips] —have a disproportionate amount of say over how space is governed.
Hetzfeld: I’m going disagree a little bit with you.
Nesvold: [inaudible comment]
Hetzfeld: Yeah I know. The treaty of course is a compromise. Yes it is vague. Most treaties are. They are international compromises. When I mentioned the words “nongovernmental entities” in there that actually was not in the US proposal but it was in the Soviet one because they didn’t have private companies, we did have some telecom satellites that were heavily regulated but built by private companies up there. And we agreed to that compromise.
Are the treaties business-friendly? Not particularly. Are we headed into a more corporate environment in space? Most likely. But I do believe that the words are there that we can interpret without changing anything.
Think about a new treaty. The proposal’s has been around for a long time. It’s pretty much been put to bed by the lawyers. We’re not in a treating-writing era right now. We’d have to get an agreement, politically, with Russia, with China, and with a number of other countries. It’s not going to be easy. Even if we could do it, it’d be twenty years in the making. We talk about corporate investment. What do companies want? Predictability, stability, and fairness. You don’t have it when you’re talking about changes of the sort that could go on in discussions for a long time. I think it’s the first way of discouraging investment, actually.
But interpreting them in a better way for allowing not only US but other nations and their companies as well to participate, I think that is possible and I think there’s a lot we can do. One thing you might say, we amend the treaties. That too, because of UN rules, is a very difficult process. And if you— They never have been amended. If you passed an amendment, not every nation would agree to it. But only the nations that did would that change be effective for. So it would create a mess at the moment, and I think we’re better off dealing with the vagueness but with some good ideals to at least work toward, and then try to implement reasonable solutions for today’s world.
Nesvold: Thank you both for excellently recapping that. Anthony, what’s our time? Okay. I’d like to take this opportunity to open up to questions. So we have a question here if you could just wait for the microphone and then introduce yourself.
Nelson Jacobsen: Hello. Nelson Jacobsen with the Help Earth Foundation. That problem that’s striking me the most right now is our current administration has refused to sign the Outer Space Treaty. Yeah. I tweeted it. It’s on my timeline. On top of that, we have a bill going through Congress to defund and decharter America out of the UN. So, outside of this existing Outer Space Treaty which we desperately need, we need to make sure that America would stay in it because the issue is if people are going up to space, one of the other things I haven’t heard talked about is they could bring something back to space. And that’s why I’ve always thought that the governmental side has been there. Because…think of the Valdez. Something happens in a private company, well, someone goes and mines something. They bring it back and outer space contamination. You know, we don’t have any of these things even remotely being set up yet. So in a sense we’ve socialized the cost of going to space and now we want people to privatize some of the wealth extraction. But we’ll need a treaty of how it’s gonna to happen, right?
Hetzfeld: We ratified the Outer Space Treaty in 1967.
[Jacobsen doesn’t use the microphone for next two comments. They may be incomplete/paraphrased.]
Jacobsen: He didn’t sign it in 2018, it was up for renewal.
Hetzfeld: There’s no renewal on that.
Jacobsen: Well, he’s trying to get out of [indistinct]
Nesvold: Anthony. There’s a hand raised right behind this gentleman.
Hetzfeld: But let me— Can I—?
Nesvold: Yeah, no problem. Just making sure—
Hetzfeld: I just wanted to say one other thing. About two years ago, Senator Cruz called a hearing in the Senate as to whether we should withdraw from the treaty. A number of lawyers testified. The answer was unanimously no. From both sides, convervative, liberal, and so on. And that has been put to sleep as well as a possibility. So that we do abide by our treaty obligations. There are actually five space treaties on the board. Four of them—the Outer Space Treaty, the Agreement on Rescue and Return of Astronauts, the Liability Convention, the Registration Convention—we were original parties to. The only one we haven’t ratified is the Moon Agreement, nor have many other nations. It’s only been ratified or signed by about twenty, twenty-one nations.
Nesvold: And none of the major space-faring nations.
Hetzfeld: Um, and none of the ma— Well, there are a couple of exceptions to that. But it is really a failed trea— That Moon Agreement is a failed treaty. The others are not.
Nesvold: Let’s just get to the next question?
Parvathy Prem: Hi. Parvathy Prem, I’m a planetary scientist. This is great. So, this is kind of related to Amanda’s point about who the law is for. But I’d be curious to hear all four of your thoughts on who do you think should be making these laws. How much a role do you think different actors should have? Should it be mostly up to the scientists? Should companies or countries that have space exploration capabilities right now have more of a say? Or if space belongs to all of us should all of us in some way have voice in that?
Nesvold: That’s a great question. I’ll start off the answer which is not from a legal background at all, which is that in general I think that as many parties as should be involved in all these discussions. That includes countries that don’t have the capability to go to space. That includes people who have no interest in traveling to space. If we’re gonna expand our civilization beyond the Earth, we should have input from all of our civilizations.
Hetzfeld: There’s a group called COPUOS, Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. It’s part of the United Nations. It has a couple of sub-committees. It meets three times a year in Vienna. I just came back from a meeting of a plenary group there in late June. That’s the group that drafted the first treaties. At that time in the 60s there were eighteen nations, members of it. Today there are ninety-two nations. And they do meet, and talk about these problems.
I said we’re not in a treaty-signing mode these days. But we have agreed on a number of what we call soft law. Non-binding guidelines, both for orbital debris; guidelines for long-term sustainability in space to try to maintain the orbits so that everybody can benefit and use from them.
For the scientists there’s a group called COSPAR. A long time ago they wrote a number of rules on planetary protection, the contamination issue. And we do try to follow those. But they are not hard law, they are not treaty law.
Panfil: So, I see [Jesse Cate?] sitting in the audience and it’s reminding me of the workshop that we were at a few weeks ago on Elinor Ostrom and the commons. And I think that speaking about what we can bring in from our experience here on Earth to outer space, Ostrom speaks about a polycentric approach to governing space. And to your point, I think that there need to be as many people at the table when we’re deciding how to govern this new realm as possible. For the practical reason that there are so many different interests implicated. Of course we need the governments at the table, and of course we need inter-governmental organizations at the table. But we also need private companies at the table, because that’s going to be who is going to be driving a lot of the exploration and exploitation in space. But also need civil society at the table to prevent exactly the type of nightmare scenario that was kind of debated during the first panel.
Nguyen: I couldn’t agree more. Space may be unlimited but it still is a commons that could be a tragedy. And when you’re talking about orbital debris, we’re talking about what countries owe to one another, especially countries that already have developed space programs versus countries who are starting to have their own space programs. I think it’s really important to have everyone at the table.
Hetzfeld: I’m going to again take a slightly different point on this. Space is really not one thing. It is not a commons. And there are parts of space we may want to treat that way, but in general saying space is a global commons I think is a very misleading statement. And in the treaties we talk about common interests. We talk about solving common problems.
But that’s different. And Ostrom’s examples are all very very small examples. Like water…a certain region in California. And the problem is enforcement. I don’t even like the word “governance,” I prefer “managing.” Because governance implies somebody is out there and is gonna come after you. We don’t have that international situation in space at this point in time. I don’t think we’re going to have it for a while but that doesn’t mean we can’t come to agreements with other nations about how to handle problems. And I think we will do that.
The treaties only call for diplomatic negotiations. That’s insufficient to solve problems, particularly as we move to corporate…possible issues involving companies. Two satellites collide; if they’re government satellites they can negotiate it. If they’re private ones, we need a different system. And we don’t have that in place right now. And I think we need not only the incentives that we’re giving, but also some form of enforceable arbitration or court decisions on international issues in space. And space is global.
Nesvold: I think we have time for one more question. There’s one in back there.
Zachary Kronisch: Hi, Zachary Kronisch, Institute for Security and Conflict Studies. The treaty is designed as you said to address the threat of nuclear conflict. But today’s conflicts are much less likely to be nuclear in nature, especially as they regard to the space domain. So much of our infrastructure and critical communications technologies and so on are in space. So, in terms of the likelihood of seeing conflict that relates to space…between say great nations and so on, great power competition, how do you see that playing out vis-à-vis or preventing that, via treaty or some other vehicle?
Hetzfeld: Space assets could be involved in any contested environment we may have. But we’re not really talking about fighting wars in space. The wars are here. The differences are among nations here. Space assets, as I said, could be involved.
I want to make one other thing clear. In the treaty… They were written carefully in those years. As you can imagine, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union was going to sign an agreement that wouldn’t let them launch a nuclear weapon into outer space and come back down and destroy something in one or the other nations. That’s not outlawed in the Outer Space Treaty. The only thing that is is placing nuclear weapons in orbit or on a celestial body. So, it’s not really warfare in space that we’re talking about.
Nesvold: I’d like to mention that once we’re a civilization that has expanded to other bodies and is much more adept at moving around in space and moving other things in space, we don’t really need nukes anymore to hurt each other. It’s as easy as dropping a rock that may be brought in for mining onto the Earth to do a lot of damage. And in particular if you’re talking about violent conflict, space settlements for some time will be extremely fragile—you just have to let the air out to kill everybody. So I think that while at the moment maybe it seems like we have more cyber conflict than violent conflict, I would say number one that’s maybe not true; we’re still pretty good at violence. And number two I think that that might change as we move to different environments.
I think we’re going to wrap it up. I’d like to thank my panelists. Thank you very much. And now we’re gonna move to the third and last panel of the day.
There Will Be Crime in Space by Erika Nesvold, at Slate/Future Tense
How Will We Govern Ourselves in Space? event page