Dreaming of exploring the wonders of space has long been part of the human condition. With space exploration never far from a scientist’s mind, post-World War II saw the creation of the first missile programs by the US and the Soviet Union. By 1957, the Soviets had launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, into outer space. Man would follow four years later when the Soviets sent Russian Lt Yuro Gagerin into space and he became the first human to orbit the earth. But the United States wasn’t far behind and our first satellite, Explorer 1, made its’ maiden voyage in 1957. Three years later in 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American to travel into space and just a year later, on February 20, 1962, John Glenn made history as the first American to orbit the earth. Neil Armstrong’s historic landing on the moon would follow in July of 1969 and we have never looked back.

Today, as space exploration continues and goals evolve from a walk on the moon to the notion that there may come a time when human beings can actually travel to, and perhaps someday establish habitats on, other planets such as the moon and mars, the legal landscape is evolving as well.

International Space Laws have been around nearly since we began exploring outer space; the first space laws were implemented in 1967 to provide the necessary regulations and customs that govern our activities in outer space. And when it comes to contemplating space law, since no one owns the moon or outer space, the biggest questions seem to lie in jurisdiction. Typically, the state that owns or governs the spacecraft would be responsible for it and the astronauts aboard. But what if the day actually comes when man can build a habitat on Mars? This begs the question of ownership rights and while the government has always been responsible for space activity, residences and other developed properties would move into the realm of the private sector… with the need for relevant laws to follow.

While currently it is quite expensive to make a trip into space, there are many scientists and engineers working toward making space flight accessible to everyday individuals, companies and organizations. When the day comes that space travel is inexpensive enough to accommodate such flights, the aerospace industry will be just one of the industries involved in putting together these amazing trips. Construction, interior design, food and beverage, entertainment and advertising are a few of the industries that will surely be important components of future space travel. Each and every industry has legalities to consider.

Another interesting thing to examine is the law of salvage. A long-standing concept of maritime law, known as the law of salvage, allows someone who recovers another’s ship or cargo after peril or loss at sea to earn a reward commensurate with the value of the property that they recovered. With space debris becoming a growing problem in Earth’s orbit, could such a law extend to outer space? Introducing a law like that would allow businesses to collect some of the objects floating in space. Because of the high cost of any space launch, anything collected would be very valuable…. at a launch cost of $100/kg, scrap metal could theoretically be worth $100,000 a ton in low orbit! That’s a lot of money! And with lots of money comes some problems, certainly an area that lawmakers would need to take a closer look at. Could outer space ever “go green”? Recycling, and the laws that govern it, could also potentially come into play here.

With so many things to think of down the road, it is also important to note that some new space laws are already happening. Just last year, in March of 2015, The Space Resource and Utilization Act of 2015, or SPACE Act for short, was introduced into the House of Representatives. This bill, which passed the House, allows companies that mine on asteroids to keep whatever they dig up. The bill also seeks to clarify what private property rights would look like in outer space but doesn’t specifically address the FAA’s role in said rights, leaving out a potentially big piece of the puzzle and adding to the growing list of things that laws must adapt to define.

These are just a few of the expanding concerns that lie on our horizon. As our foray into space, the imagining of commercial space travel, and even property development in outer space continues to grow, space laws are evolving as well. As mankind’s dreams of space travel are seemingly limitless in scope, it is an exciting time to ponder the future and having the knowledge and reassurance of our space laws, and those who practice and implement them, lends an air of confidence and safety to the growing space community.