Space Treaty turns 40

Sputnik had a blast during its 50th anniversary celebration last week and it'll be hard to top all that.

Well today is the 40th anniversary of the
Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.

I'm pretty sure the
40th anniversary of Star Trek last year garnered more attention and excitement than will this, even though without a doubt the Outer Space Treaty boldly went where no treaty on Earth had even imagined going before.

While some space agers love the so-called Magna Carta of space and want its provisions chiseled forever in moon rock, others continue to voice serious complaints and concerns about this fundamental framework of space law, with some of the contentious issues surrounding certain treaty provisions dating back to before the international agreement entered into force 40 years ago today -- Oct. 10, 1967.

Fear not, discussion and debate will continue as to next steps for international space law. For now, just a short post to quietly commemorate the 40th anniversary of the document that launched a thousand or more law careers.

As we recall, way back in 1967, a year of major Vietnam War battles and large anti-war protests, American race riots and the swearing in of the first black Supreme Court Justice, the Beatles, summer of love, Elvis and Priscilla tying the knot in Vegas, Aretha Franklin singing Respect, the first live, international, satellite TV show and the world's first heart transplant, space-faring nations the US and USSR, along with many others, joined in a ground-breaking agreement on space activities which may have been the best shot at the time for the world's first international space accord.

The historic year experienced a tragic start when on January 27, the day the US, Soviet Union and United Kingdom actually signed the Outer Space Treaty (and who can forget
Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson's remarks from the East Room at the White House at the signing of the Treaty that day?), Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward Higgins White, and Roger Chaffee died in a fire in Apollo 1 during a launch pad test. (A few months later, on April 24 cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov also lost his life when his Soyuz 1 parachute failed on reentry).

But the world saw a lot of great space action in '67, including launches in the Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor programs; Russia's Venera 4 and Cosmos 167, Mariner 5, and Apollo 4.

And space history rockets on.

So far there is nothing on the horizon to replace the Outer Space Treaty. And for the near future, I'll predict no great groundswell of support for withdrawing from it. But a lot of other space law-making is underway. Will the Outer Space Treaty survive intact another 40 years? We can only imagine what the next 40, 50 and for that matter, 500 years of our species' space activities will bring.

One thing, however, is certain: Lots more work for space lawyers ;)

Happy 40th.

Change is the essential process of all existence.
-- Spock; "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield", Star Trek stardate 5730.2

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Image: NASA

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