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Musk and the race for Outer Space

By Ibu Sanjeeb Garg

Beating the Rhetoric

The advent of modern photography has emerged as a powerful tool to capture human history and the progress of mankind. The lunar landing of Neil Armstrong inspired millions, so did other iconic photographs. Whether it be the Napalm war in Vietnam or Soviet war on Afganistan, photopraphs in the modern era have consistenly defined mankind. And in this same realm the recent photograph of a spacesuit clad mannequin driving a car in the space, with the blue earth in the background is a spectacular sight.  

Elon Musk in his race to the outer space captivated the imagination of mankind all over the world, like never before, when Space X Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket was recently launched. The mission though a demo mission demonstrated how Space X had developed the capability to launch heavy rocket missions into outer space. Dummy flights usually have a chunk of metal as a payload, so that no significant damage occurs if the flights fail. However Space X decided to use a Roadster with the manquienn in the driving seat. SpaceX hid a few Easter eggs in the roadster as well. Though it has since fallen out of orbit, yet the point has been proven.

The image of the roadster however has brought other important topics and discussions into the fora now. One of the first issues that this launch uncovers is the acceptance that private players have finally arrived in outer space. Since the start of human endeavour into space it has always been a nation specfic activity. Although 1980’s onwards private companies started contributing towards space research yet the role had remained rather limited. The companies were majorly responsible for offering payloads or small satellites which used the space that was offered by agencies like National Aernoautics Space Admnistration (NASA), European Space Agency ( ESA) and Indian Space Reserach Organisation(ISRO) among others.

However companies like Space X are now beginning to push the envelope. These companies are not limiting their role into satellites alone. They are engaging themselves in indepedent vertical operations without dependence or license from national space agencies. Indeed, the long term aim of Elon Musk’s Space X is to develop colony in Mars where humans can live. Others like Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic aim to develop space toursism. In its course companies like Space X and Virgin Atlantic have suffered setbacks as well, whether in the form of human lives or property destruction. Yet these incidents have not detered the resolve of such companies which are moving ahead. Closer home, in India companies like TeamIndus are looking at cost effective measures of lunar landing while participating in competitions like the Google’s Lunar Landing Project. It is clear that private corporations are taking an increased interest in outer space than ever before.

Worldwide such events would bring up new policy challenges for lawmakers. First of all, space is still governed by the Outer Space Treaty which has limited to negligible role for private corporations. Once private corporations take an increased role in space, one of the first changes that have to be made is regarding the Outer Space Treaty. While military operations and installations might perhaps still be banned for private corporations civilian installations would have to be permitted under amended provisions, if introduced. Yet the buck would not stop here. The introduction of private corporations would introduce new legistlative challenges which would require new admnistrative approaches. For example if Space X is able to colonise space tomorrow then would that entail that space can be divided by corporations among themsleves or would the plant their states under their nation’s flag, whichever is their country of origin.

Assuming that civilian installations are installed and colonies are built who would provide security in such colonies. If the private corporations are allowed to keep their own security forces would that entail to military instllations in space, a provision which is not allowed even for soverign states under the Outer Space Treaty today. Further it would open up questions on status of minerals and other natural reseources if found in these areas, nationality of citizens born in these colonies and so on.

Each small issue would require new thinking and imaginative policymaking. India too has awakened to the realities of private corporations in outside space. The Draft Space Activities Bill was recently put out, for public consumptions and comments. Although the draft is a long way away from a perfect bill, yet it does indicate that Indian government too has started moving their thoughts in this direction. The road to private players playing a predominant role in space is still way ahead, however as the recent Space X activities have shown up, the preparations have already begun. The race in Outer Space is poised for interesting times ahead,in the future.

-( Views expressed by the author are personal)


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