What Laws Govern Outer Space? Three Professors Share Their Thoughts

February 9, 2017

Interested in honeymooning in space or buying a plot of land on the moon? Thinking about mining an asteroid or taking a one-way trip to Mars? If so, you might want to speak first to Adjunct Professor Steve Mirmina (LL.M.’06), who teaches a popular seminar on Outer Space Law on Wednesday nights during the spring semester. These issues and others, including the propriety of conducting war in outer space, are largely regulated by a treaty and governed by international law.

Mirmina, Professor David Koplow, and Adjunct Professor Robert Dalton – senior advisor on treaty practice at the U.S. Department of State – were on hand to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (OST) at a Georgetown Law event on January 27. Among other things, the professors discussed how to interpret the treaty in light of developments unforeseen at the time of the drafting, such as the activities of commercial companies in outer space and the application of criminal law in outer space.

“Instead of having debates among the lawyers on interpretations of a 50-year-old text, we should have a new text…,” Koplow said. “It won’t be easy to hammer out a new international agreement on mining, but to me, that’s the better way of dealing with the new possibilities.”

The event, attended by approximately 80 scholars and students, was organized with the help of Oonagh Sands (LL.M.’03) and Charles Stotler, both of the American Society of International Law’s Space Law Interest Group. Financial support was provided by the D.C.-based nonprofit Secure World Foundation (SWF); Chris Johnson, a space law advisor at SWF, helped start the discussions with a multimedia, historical account of the signing of the OST.