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Can humanity establish a new nation in Outer Space?

With most of the territory of the earth governed by one nation state or another, we saw last week that some of the world’s major countries have claims over parts of Antarctica, but that it was agreed in the 1959 Antarctic Treaty to set aside the question of sovereignty for the duration of the treaty to allow people to work together there in the interest of peace and science. Interestingly, eight years after the Antarctic Treaty was signed, “it was used as a loose model for the Outer Space Treaty, and is still seen as a template for how to govern areas that fall outside of traditional national boundaries”.

As humanity’s exploration of Outer Space continues, space law will become an increasingly important field of inquiry, as testified by the work of Frans von der Dunk – the leading scholar on space law. As futuristic as it may sound, the European Centre for Space Law, giving a list of questions that give an idea of some concrete issues that arise in space law, asks: “What is the legal status of astronauts in outer space? What is the legal status of astronauts if they crash in foreign territory? Can astronauts get married on board a space station? What nationality would a baby have if it was born on a space station or on the Moon?”.

Just as Antarctica is in a sense “no man’s land”, Outer Space is the ideal territory to develop new ideas “free from the constraint of land-based country’s laws”. This is the objective of the space nation Asgardia, an independent platform established by scientists and legal experts that wants to create a new nation in space, support the peaceful exploration of space for the benefit of humanity, and eventually acquire membership of the United Nations.

While the founder has stated that “the ultimate aim is to create a legal platform to ensure protection of planet Earth and to provide access to space technologies for those who not have that access at the moment”, Monica Grady is skeptical as Asgardia has not disclosed any information about its operations, governance or funding. She also stresses that Asgardia’s complaint of economical, political and moral considerations often taking precedence over purely scientific ones in space law is in fact dangerous, as “history has given us too many examples where unrestricted research has resulted in unacceptable consequences”.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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