Introduction to One Half Century and Counting: The Evolution of U.S. National Space Law and Three Long-Term Emerging Issues

July 19, 2010
Guest Post

Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz is the author of a recent article in the Harvard Law & Policy Review.
In the early 1980s, like most Americans, I knew people had been to the Moon but knew nothing else of the many kinds of space activities and technologies that enhance life on Earth. However, I had been fascinated with history since childhood. My undergraduate degree and the better part of an unfinished Master's degree are in American and British history. I studied U.S. Constitutional history in 1976 when the U.S. was burning with bicentennial fever. I subscribe to Sir Walter Scott's view: "A lawyer without history or literature is a mechanic, a mere working mason; if he possesses some knowledge of these, he may venture to call himself an architect."

When, for the first time, I saw the famous 1972 Apollo 17 photograph of the Earth taken at a distance of about 45,000 kilometers (28,000 mi), history and the future came together for me. It was--as the hackneyed, but nonetheless powerful and true observation confirms--a single planet without political boundaries. It was physical proof of the fundamental premise of every major human tradition, philosophy, and religion since recorded history: we are one.

I began to see an analogy between the aspirations of the U.S. framers and founders and the opportunities presented by the image: the continent was to the frontier as the planet is to space. The "Englishmen-becoming-Americans" who convened a Continental Congress were driven by the unity that a shared geography required. Additionally, a vast, unknown frontier was beckoning which, if it was to be well explored, demanded that the individual states accept an organized national identity before venturing into it. The Apollo 17 image invited the extension of this kind of thinking: humankind is united by a common global geography and space is an infinite frontier into which humankind, not nations, will expand. Thus, the Federalist Papers became part of my space law curriculum.

It is important to state that while the analogy invites the extension of the philosophy of the American Experiment it is also an opportunity to avoid the Experiment's less noble aspects including imperialistic land grabs and disregard for indigenous peoples. Make no mistake: this analogy is not a call for United States dominance or Manifest Destiny in space. It is, in fact, a reflection upon applying the logic of geography and a united purpose that succeeded at the level of a continent to the level of a planet.

In "One Half Century and Counting: The Evolution of U.S. National Space Law and Three Long-Term Emerging Issues", I continue to look to the past and anticipate the future. This article outlines 50 years of national space law in one of the world's most successful space faring nations. It is intended to serve, as Sir Scott would have understood, as the architectural plan of a national space law. Space law has developed at the international level for decades. It is now beginning to develop at the national level in many countries. For them, this article presents the opportunity to examine the way one nation has approached the subject. For the United States, it serves as a reminder that the Framers had it right. In designing the Constitutional system to "form a more perfect Union" and to "promote the general Welfare" for themselves and for us, their "Posterity," they provided a legal system robust and flexible enough to accommodate what was inconceivable to the eighteenth century mind: human beings living and working in outer space. Space law has demonstrated how the Constitution requires each generation to articulate anew what it means to "secure the Blessings of Liberty."