Everyone has heard about International laws, Criminal laws, Property laws, and Human Rights Laws, to name a few, but not that many know that Space laws or Space lawyers exist. They have been around for quite a while already. The first space laws date back to 1919. But why are they so obscure? The answer would be that there is still nothing that certain. Space, and by using this name, I refer to the Outer Space, is something way too vague to describe. Up to this day, no one agrees on where the air-line stops and the space-line starts. It is somewhat agreed that the line where the Outer Space begins should be drawn at 100 km from the surface. This line is called The Karman Line, but our boy Karman defined it at 80 km above the surface when he first introduced it. Then you also have NASA Mission Control saying that it is at 122km. As you can tell, this is all very confusing. Why is it so hard to agree on a single number? Because the line where the Outer Space starts is blurry. This makes it more complicated to agree on a specific number.
Taking this example into account, let us move on to what is more certain when it comes to the regulations of Space.
In the past, property owners had an unlimited right to their land when it came to their height. Moving on to the technological improvements coming and the appearance of Aircrafts on a larger scale, the governments decided that they should own the air from a certain level. In general, governments have decided they would own their land up to 150m. This regulation made it easier for Airplanes to move around, and for Aviation laws to be established. After a while, America (or Edwin Hubble for the curious) would go on to discover Space and further complicate things. Now let's take the example of satellites and spacecraft. It would be a logistical nightmare to ask for the rights to fly above a state every time your spacecraft does so in its travel through the Outer Space.
Then what laws apply? As our example, we will use the case of the first-ever space crime committed, known as the case of Anne McClain. In August 2019, the NASA astronaut was accused of trying to access the bank accounts of her former spouse without her authorization. McClain was accused by the authorities of identity theft and improper non-authorized access to financial records.
What do the Space laws state about those cases? For the reason that she is an American citizen, and the person that she affected with her actions is also an American citizen, their dispute fell under the American jurisdiction and law. Why though? Because McClain happened to be on the International Space Station (ISS) while committing the crime. Furthermore, there is a Treaty, titled the Intergovernmental Agreement on Space Station Cooperation, which governs the ISS and any jurisdictional question that may arise in the future. This treaty was signed by the five states involved in the ISS which includes Russia, Japan, the EU, Canada, and the US. According to this treaty, if a crime was to be committed on the ISS, the country whose national was involved has criminal jurisdiction, unless people from other countries were affected.
Let us look then at another case. What if an astronaut were to commit a crime on the moon? The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 states that the "Outer Space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.". This is where the idea of extra-terrestrial jurisdiction begins. Think that there are two 18-year-olds on the moon, one is German, and the other is American. Then, if they want to drink, the second one will not be allowed to because he is still underage in his home country. So yes, while in an unowned space or celestial body, you are still under the jurisdiction of your national country.
Now to complicate things for a bit, if an astronaut from one country would injure one from another, then the country of the victim will be the one to prosecute. This law is also applied to properties. If, as an astronaut, you damage the property of a Japanese astronaut then you shall be prosecuted under Japanese law. Now, this law applies if the countries from which the astronauts are from have a normal extradition treaty. If we change the case to when A, the abuser is from a country that does not have an extradition treaty with B, the country of the victim, then the abuser or criminal does not have to be prosecuted under the jurisdiction of state B. This rule for example would not apply anymore for Russia on the ISS.
Now for a more fun example let's say, what if a baby was born in space? What nationality do they get? The nationality of the parent in some cases. In others, there is still the issue of some countries that do not give citizenship to the babies born outside of the country. For this example, the Aviation Laws would apply because they have figured it out already. They say that if a baby has to be born on an aircraft, but his parents come from countries like the ones presented above, then the baby receives the nationality of the country in which the airplane is registered.
In the case in which you are already thinking about the question of a baby being born on Mars or another planet or satellite like the Moon, I am sorry to inform you but there is no answer to that legally speaking.
Unfortunately, Space Laws are still a work in progress. They have been around for longer than a century now, but the technology is too new. As we know, it is hard to enforce an unknown territory, this can be best seen in using the at hand technology. Cyber security is still developing as we are spending our daily lives more and more on the internet. Only time will tell what will happen to this area, and the same is to say when it comes to Outer Space.
The future is coming closer with the rapid development of aircraft and spacecraft technology that make Space Tourism sound closer than ever before. The SpaceShipTwo took off in July 2021 at about 110 km above the surface of the Earth into the Zero gravity field at maximum height, after which it landed at the starting point. It was a milestone mission that marked the first fully crewed flight of its VSS Unity spaceplane. Also, we all have heard in one way or another about Elon Musk and the SpaceX Project. Therefore, we can admit that there seems to be something interesting coming for the Outer Space in the future, and for us, as the most advanced species on the planet. But the Space laws will still take many years to be improved and more precise. Even so, those cases of morality, ethics, laws, and rights bring food for thought because it is still an unknown and complicated territory.