Got Space Ethics?

This blog isn't Space Ethics Probe. But ethics is, or should be, the business of everyone, including everyone in space business.

As part of the track on Politics and Space Advocacy at
ISDC 2006, Dr. Patrick Lin, research director at The Nanoethics Group, "a non-partisan organization that studies the ethical and societal impact of nanotechnology," presented his own space ethics overview in the form of this "think piece," Space Ethics: Look Before Taking Another Leap for Mankind.

Here, Dr. Lin broadly sets forth the familiar as well as emerging ethical issues for consideration in space development -- "environmental conservation, competing priorities, safety risks and non-proliferation" as well as property rights, economics, governance, and let's not forget the quandary, do we have the right to go to space at all? (Dr. Lin acknowledges, "[w]anderlust is in our DNA -- that's simply what humans do." Besides, he points out, if you believe in the big bang, why wouldn't we "have the right to travel back from where we came? We already covered the distance, so exploring outer space doesn't really cover new territory; we've been there.")

While he doesn't solve the issues he raises (some of which are actually more legal than ethical) he does suggest that, going forward, we as the final "frontiersmen" take "time to consider what our responsibilities are" and learn some lessons from recent history (including development of cyberspace and Antarctica).

Dr. Lin believes we "probably don't want" a "rush into orbit without a 'big picture' strategy -- allowing individuals or corporations or governments to make up a plan as they go along, whether it's to camp on or erect billboards on or lay claim to other planets, untethered by orderly processes and safeguards."

He asks, "is it a good enough reason to inhabit another planet, because we want a "do-over" if we destroy our own? And if so, again, what are we doing to ensure that we don't make the same mistakes and lay waste to another biosphere?" Here he cautions, "[i]f we have put ourselves in a position where we need a back-up plan, it is unclear how colonizing space will improve our predicament until we address those root issues."

And as we "move forward with our journey," Dr. Lin suggests using "forethought and advance planning related to the social, political and economic landscape of space living, in addition to the usual near-term issues in space ethics." After all, if "this is our chance for a fresh start, then we should be deliberate and careful with our actions, thinking through as many of the unintended consequences as possible."

In other words, ad astra ethically.

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