The day, April 12, 1961 created history
when Russian cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin made 108 minute orbital flight
in Vostok 1 spacecraft1 sealing
Man’s victory in Outer Space. The
astronauts put their lives at risk to unravel the mysteries of space,
redefining life and its origin on Earth. They are expected to perform under
difficult conditions with limited resources and are exposed to hazardous
conditions such as permanent damage due to radiations and altered gravitational
fields. Given the hazardous nature of space travel, it requires international
standards of safety regulation for future commercial space travel. On account
of the above, elaborate and adequate legislative measures must be in place to
ensure a secure environment for outer space travel so that the astronauts are
provided with adequate safety measures so as to face all types of contingencies.
It is the enormous cost that is
involved in addressing each of these contingencies, that deters the launching
State to trade it off as ‘acceptable risks’.
legislation outlines The
Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts – “The States shall render all
possible assistance to astronauts in the event of distress, accident or
emergency and promptly return them to the launching State”, so as to safeguard
the rights of the astronauts.
a system of responsibility and
liability must be put in place at the international level. This would
facilitate an appropriate risk avoidance procedure which will remove
uncertainties in case an astronaut/space tourist suffers any kind of damage.
these factors call for robust, practical and effective space tourism
legislation which is all inclusive and safeguards the rights of the space
tourists/researchers in every respect.
Space systems safety,
extraterrestrial habitats, gravitational fields, space accidents, radiation
damage, Columbia disaster, NASA, The Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts,
Outer Space Treaty, Liability Convention, launching State, International Civil
Space Safety Organization, space tourism, altered cognitive functions, protective
space suit, International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety
Outer Space has always fascinated humans
and their inquisitiveness has not diminished even after trying to assess its
vastness with scientific marvels, knowledge and undeterred endeavor. This
curiosity and the exhilaration of discovering the Milky Way and beyond has cost
us precious human lives, space resources and the opportunity to redefine life. This
calls for Space goals which facilitate better life, pursuit of knowledge and
advancement of Science. The need of the hour is not only to safeguard the
valuable lives by increasing the security measures to protect the on ground
people as well as the astronauts, but to put in place, a robust framework of
rules and regulations that uphold their safety rights and define those rights
in legal terms.
Though space exploration has provided a
sea of information catalyzing scientific and technological advancements, but at
the same time, it has also led to a plethora of problems requiring legal
solutions. Unfortunately space law has failed to keep pace with space
technology and the consequential changes in the exploration. As a result of
significant technological advances, there is a burgeoning of use of space for
The future explorations into Space would
be more challenging as they would be at greater distances from Earth and with
extended duration in space. The astronauts are thus expected to perform under
difficult conditions with limited resources. On account of the above, adequate
measures must be in place to ensure a secure environment for outer space
travel. Consequently, the legal issues should include the legal status of space
tourists more extensively and explicitly.
Organizations Committed To The Cause
The International Association for the
Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS), a non-profit organization, contributes to
scientific advancement in the field of space systems safety (technical,
socio-political and organizational).2 It
upholds making space missions, space stations, vehicles, extraterrestrial
habitats, equipments and payloads safer for people on the ground, crews and
flight participants. IAASS became a member of the International Astronautical
Federation (IAF) in 2004.
Outer space is not naturally habitable
for humans. The lack of air and extreme temperatures renders it unsuitable
for humans to stay for longer periods of time requiring the astronauts to use sophisticated
space suits to provide protection and breathable air. The risks involved are
numerous, some of them are mentioned below:
Empty Vacuum: The lack of air in space creates
vacuum which is considerable. If instruments are not sealed, they can rupture.
If an astronaut has a suit leak, it will be exposed and compromised, posing
serious health hazards.
an astronaut’s back is facing the sun and not the front, the temperature
difference can be as much as 275°F” – space.com3
To protect the astronauts from the sun, their
must have heavily shielded face plates. The suits should guard them against extreme
The environments could be totally
different, between spacewalks outside the International Space Station versus
work outside vehicles on planets.
Impacts: There are
numerous extra terrestrial objects encountered in space and debris which gets
captured within the orbit of a planet. Though the chances of a collision are
less, the possibility cannot be ruled out, posing a great threat.
With increasing number of nations launching satellites, the
space junk is also on the rise, increasing the possibility
of collisions and unforeseen situations.
and Lunar dust: The exposure to radiations from space could be hazardous to
human health. These radiations have the capability of modifying and destroying
data, finally making all the instruments
in space inoperative, thereby making human survival, challenging. We are
protected from harsh cosmic radiation due to Earth’s magnetic field and
the space station, astronauts receive over ten times the radiation than
naturally occurring on Earth. This can damage central nervous
system, increases cancer risk, alter cognitive function, can lead to decreased
motor function and behavioral changes. It can also cause radiation
sickness which leads to anorexia, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. One of
the side effects is development of degenerative tissue diseases such as
cataracts, circulatory and cardiac diseases. The food products and
medicines carried on a space craft need significant protective shielding, which
is futile against some types of space radiation.
Consumption of freeze-dried food is the only option available during space
It is essential to follow a strict exercise regime during Space travel, with a
carefully scripted high-tempo work schedule, to keep muscles and bones in sound
state and prevent them from deteriorating.
A space personnel needs to be confined within the walls of the space craft for
days altogether. Groups of people crammed in a small space over a long period
of time are likely to develop behavioral issues. Though the crew members are carefully
chosen, trained and supported to ensure that they can work effectively as a
team for six months, but behavioural problems as depression are not uncommon
during a mission. The issues encountered are a decline in mood, cognition, morale
or interpersonal interaction, development of fatigue, psychiatric and sleep
disorders because of the disturbance in the circadian rhythm. Lack of fresh
food with variety and a balanced diet, may prove to be detrimental to physiological
and cognitive abilities. The third-quarter effect is observed where motivation
and morale declines three-quarters of the way into a mission, regardless of the
time duration of the mission.
fields: Space travel requires travel from one gravitational field to
another. This alteration affects head-eye and hand-eye coordination, spatial
orientation, balance, locomotion and leads to motion sickness. Without gravity,
the bones lose minerals, with density dropping at over 1% per month. This percentage
is very high when compared to the rate of bone loss for elderly men and women
on Earth which is 1% to 1.5% per year. Other health hazards include loss
of muscle strength and endurance with cardiovascular deconditioning since it
does not take effort to float through space. The fluids in the body shift
upwards to the head, which puts pressure on eyes and lead to vision problems.
Dehydration increases the possibility of developing kidney stones. Bones lose
calcium, which leads to their deterioration.
functional performance: There is a decline in the ability to
perform functional tasks, when the space personnel are reintroduced to a
gravitational environment following a prolonged transit. Significant
impairments are observed in performance of operational tasks immediately
following landing on a planetary surface. Spinal ultrasounds are conducted and
drugs are administered to contain the damage, but the side effects are
Earth: As there exists long communication delays over vast distances from
the space vehicle to the Earth, greater autonomy to take decisions, is required
on the part of the astronauts. The possibility of equipment failures can wipe
out the support systems entirely. In such a case, the astronaut must use his
discretion to take control of the prevailing situation and avert the danger.
NASA is researching on all of these risks, trying to reduce the
negative effects on the human body. Each mission into the space will
provide more insight into these risks/changes over a longer period of time.4
When humans are sent to the outer space, it must be ensured that the unknowns
have been addressed so as to enable a safe journey back home, where they are
reintroduced to their original environment and gravitational field.
As the astronauts/ space tourists face various hazards and
unfavourable environment for long periods of time, elaborate and adequate
legislative measures should be put in place so that their rights are
safeguarded and they are provided with adequate safety equipments which is not
a tradeoff between safety and cost.
Accidents During Space Flights
Soyuz 1: Parachute Failure
As it was decided to discontinue the mission, Vladimir Komarov,
one of Soviet Russia’s first groups of cosmonauts, began preparing for his
return to Earth. The parachutes on Soyuz 1 were deployed but did not unfold
correctly, making the spacecraft impossible to slow down. Soyuz 1 crashed into
Earth on April 24, 1967, killing cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. He was the first
fatality in spaceflight and since his death, has been honored for his bravery
Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster
On January 28, 1986, the spacecraft’s O-rings
developed a fault due to which the rubber seals that separated its rocket
boosters—caused a fire. This led to the malfunctioning of the boosters and spread
up the rocket. The shuttle moved faster than the speed of sound and began to
break apart. None of the astronauts on board survived, including civilian
Christa McAuliffe, a participant in NASA’s Teacher in Space project.
Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster
The disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia
on February 1, 2003, as it reentered the atmosphere, led to the death of the
entire crew of six American astronauts and the first Israeli astronaut in
space. Kalpana Chawla, an American astronaut and the first woman of Indian
origin in space, was one of the seven crew members. The accident was
caused during liftoff by the breaking off of a piece of foam that was intended
to absorb and insulate the fuel tank of the shuttle from heat and to stop ice
from forming. The piece of foam fell on the shuttle’s left wing, creating a
hole which destabilized the shuttle.5
Technical Measures Adopted For Physical Safety
NASA has been studying people in
isolated and confined environments for years, and has developed methods and
technologies to address the problems. Clever devices like Actigraphy
are used that help to assess and improve sleep and alertness by recording movement
and the amount of ambient light around. New lighting, spurred by the
development of Light-Emitting Diode (LED)
technology, is the future, which is used on the space station to align
quality is monitored so as to examine contamination with
gases like ammonia, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. Advanced molecular
and monitoring techniques
are utilized to understand the immune
system changes in space.
NASA is researching so as to improve food processing, formulation,
preservation and packaging systems to ensure the stability of the nutrients.
Space-resilient medications and packaging that preserve the integrity of pharmaceuticals
for long duration missions have also been developed.
Milestones To Be
the dissemination of knowledge, communication and cooperation.
understanding and awareness of the Space Safety discipline.
and improve the development of Space Safety professionals and standards.
the establishment of safety laws, rules, and regulatory bodies at national and
international levels for the civil use of space.
Legal Issues In
that all nationals are equally protected from the risks posed by over-flying
space systems and objects during launch and re-entry/return operations;
that space systems are developed, built and operated according to common
minimum ground and flight safety rules.
to prevent collisions or interference with other aerospace systems during
launch, on-orbit operation, and re-entry;
the protection of the ground, air and on-orbit environments from chemical,
radioactive and debris contamination related to space operations;
that mutual aid provisions for space mission safety emergencies are
progressively agreed, developed and made accessible without restriction anywhere
on the Earth and in Outer Space.
On 13th December 1963, the
United Nations took a major step formulating a declaration of legal principles
in Resolution 1962 (XVIII). One of these principles outlined- “Rendering
assistance to Astronauts”6.
Customary law through UN resolutions
provided the platform for outlining the laws for outer space. These resolutions
defined the rights and duties or responsibilities for the States in the
exploration of outer space. Subsequently The
Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts was signed in 1968. The Agreement,
elaborating on elements of articles 5
of the Outer Space Treaty, provides that “The States shall render all possible
assistance to astronauts in the event of distress, accident or emergency and
promptly return them to the launching State. The State receiving information
shall inform the launching State of the incident or accident, take care of
astronauts, render assistance in search and rescue work to launching state. The
expenses for such work shall be borne by the launching State.”7
Legal Status Of Space Tourists
It is argued that space tourists would
constitute “personnel of a spacecraft” thus bringing them within the rescue and
return obligations of the Rescue Agreement. Hence it must be clarified as to
the status of various types of people who are engaged in Space Travel. At the
same time, the inclusion of non professional persons such as tourists on board
space vehicles will necessitate acceptance by them of some minimum standard of
The terms of the Liability Convention
also requires clarification regarding the status of space tourists aboard the
space object as it excludes “damage caused by a space object to foreign nationals”.
The need of the hour is establishment of
an international civil space safety organization on the lines of ICAO (International
Civil Aviation Organization) to ensure safety in outer space.
the perilous nature of space travel, it requires international standards of
safety regulation for future commercial space travel. The guidelines must ensure
the safety of orbital and sub-orbital flights. Space accidents happen under
uncontrollable situations but some of the contingencies are identifiable. It is
the enormous cost that is involved in addressing each of these contingencies,
that deters the launching State to trade it off as ‘acceptable risks’ and save
itself from investing additional funds. For example, the provision of
protective equipment made available on a space shuttle is not only expensive
but it significantly affects the capacity of the payload. More the load, more
is the fuel required for the mission and hence the additional cost incurred. So should the risk of losing a precious life
be only weighed against money?
terms of Liability Convention require greater clarification as why tourism
activities are not subjected to absolute liability as in the case of damage
caused by a Space object? They are not subjected to the regulations of a
liability system as in the principles of negligence under the International Law
of air space. Presently, the liability is limited in nature and the question is
whether we should prescribe its upper limits.
is not only necessary to lay down safety standards for a space tourism vehicle,
but also a system of responsibility and liability must be put in place at the
international level. This would facilitate an appropriate risk avoidance
procedure which will remove the uncertainties in case a space tourist suffers
any kind of damage. In the case of space tourism, the private contract between
the firm and the space tourist excludes the liability clauses giving rise to
uncertainty. Hence passenger liability due to space tourism activities should
be addressed at the international level. Presently, the Liability Convention
procedures allow for legal action to be taken by a state and present a claim to
a launching State.
provisions under the Liability Convention cannot be compared to the international regime established in relation
to liability of civil airline companies for commercial air travel as the needs
of the civil aviation industry and the costs involved differs from that of
space tourism significantly. The investment cost and the payload capacity is
much lesser in case of air travel. The time of flight during commercial air
travel is few hours whereas Mars mission is contemplated for a period of 3
years. As the time involved is significantly more in the case of space travel,
the groundwork, research and safety measures adopted are at a much different
scale and magnitude. Thus the two fields i.e. commercial air travel and space
travel (research oriented/ tourism oriented) cannot be compared and the
legislation requirement of the two fields calls for understanding of
different issues and perspectives. The
legislation for space tourism, thereby needs to be defined more extensively and
should be more inclusive about the legal status of different personnel of the
national activities in outer space may be undertaken by non-governmental
bodies, the Outer Space Treaty holds the State responsible for them in
entirety. As per Article VI of the Outer space Treaty, States are required to
authorize and supervise national activities in outer space undertaken by
The rules of the Space Law are not appropriate for an industry that includes
private commercial ventures, as the burden of all responsibility is borne by
the State and not the private players. Hence appropriate legislation must be
put in place to address the non – Governmental entities/ private players so
that these are not completely absolved of their responsibilities.
these factors call for robust, practical and effective space tourism legislation
and an effective insurance market which can cover different hazards involved in
the space travel. The thrill and the enthusiasm to unravel the mysteries of the
cosmos must not be marred due to the safety limitations and risks involved,
that too which are well within the realm of control of the humans.
Space Law in the Era of Commercialization Bhat B., Sandeepa Page No. 6
Space Law in the Era of Commercialization Bhat B., Sandeepa Page No. 10
Space Law in the Era of Commercialization Bhat B., Sandeepa Page No. 30