Do Laws Still Apply in Space? Exploring the Legal Boundaries of Outer Space

As space exploration continues to advance, it is important to consider the legal implications of activities carried out in space. International law applies to activities in space, and nations must accept responsibility for any governmental or non-governmental agencies involved. Objects launched into space are subject to the laws of their nation of origin, including people. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, ratified by 111 nations, is the primary source of international law governing activities in space.

This treaty was negotiated during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) oversees five international treaties that support space law. From testing destructive missiles to failing to meet a tax deadline for a last-minute mission, these treaties have been tested in various ways. The Outer Space Treaty is essentially the Magna Carta of space law, and it outlines the responsibilities of nations when it comes to activities in space.

Despite popular belief that space is an unregulated area, it is important to remember that laws still apply when leaving Earth. In June 2020, Canadian lawmakers passed a law that would allow the government to charge Canadian astronauts with crimes committed on the Moon. This was followed by a law passed by Congress in November 1969 stating that the Apollo 11 mission, which placed a flag on the Moon, was a symbolic gesture of national pride and not an attempt to claim ownership of the Moon. As space becomes more accessible, illegal behaviors that occur on Earth are likely to follow humans into outer space.

Jeannie Eschenbrenner
Jeannie Eschenbrenner

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