Space belongs to no one, and no one disputes this fact. It is something that has been firmly enshrined in the earliest regulatory documents concerning space activities. But the desire to move into and through space is most certainly a human right (animals do not share this desire), and one that is born from our very nature to explore and exploit. Space is both a path and a destination. Via exploration, we discover not only what is in space, but also the particular challenges associated with its access.
Through awareness of the challenges to access space, humankind works toward their mitigation, and thereby creates an easier path to exploit this special medium. This process applies to many of the things that we do beyond the attainment of space, but we can say that the denial of the fundamental part of human nature to explore and exploit space, whether for human settlement on another world or for providing life-preserving information or services to terrestrial activities, is dangerously close to being considered a crime against humanity.
Further, these denial activities, in some cases purposeful and others not, are, by their nature, destabilizing, since they clearly provide roadblocks to the satisfaction of preservation needs (whether cultural, national or species-based). Only through observing the key principles of mutually assured access for space can significant steps be taken to prevent destabilizing situations that may lead to criminal activity on the order of threatening human lives on Earth.
In a sense, we can consider the various forms of the space race (or races) as the precursors to increased competition for access to more resources. The Moon race, for example, has often been cited as a clear battle between two ideologies: capitalism and communism. As soon as the United States had proved that its society was, in this sense, technologically superior to the Soviet Union’s, the latter (and eventually the former) relaxed its expansion forces to concentrate on low Earth orbit. However, given the incredible advances in human spaceflight that can be credited to the Soviets, it certainly can be argued that their efforts in support of exploration-expansion had not really abated.
Now, with burgeoning populations in China and India, and with their subsequent need to support their populations, these nations have invested, and continue to invest, in technologies and capabilities to ensure their access to the resources that space has the potential to offer — and it is entirely natural that they should do so.
This leads us to the next point regarding space access for exploration: Human settlement on another celestial body is a matter of human preservation. The very act of establishing an outpost on another world is yet another move toward ensuring the survival of the species.
Today, there is no lack of apocalyptic movies and end-of-the-world novels to which we can point that while contemporarily they have entertainment value, conceptually they are intriguing because of the threat they illustrate to us as a species. And so, just as we would explore space to discover resources, we also would explore space to find out how we can propagate the species to another, and removed, celestial body, which thus increases significantly the odds that the species will survive (surely, a human race-ending asteroid may have astronomical odds, but those odds get even more astronomical if the number of human worlds doubles).
Under this scenario, human settlement freely occurs on another body. The outpost initially, and for some time, likely would be dependent upon the home world for various kinds of life-sustaining resources. This indicates the clear responsibility of the home world to ensure the proper support of the human settlement, and the denial of said support, since it would clearly threaten human lives, would be considered a potential crime (realistically, the only valid reason for not supporting the colony is if in doing so the home world itself is threatened).
Bringing the issue even closer to Earth, it has long been accepted that space systems and space access are inherently good for humankind due to the many life-preserving, often unknown and unappreciated, capabilities that they bring. Satellite communication, satellite navigation and remote-sensing systems (including hybrid systems) have been providing information and services since the earliest part of the space age, and have gone unnoticed by much of the general public.
For instance, it is virtually impossible to clearly tie the number of human lives enhanced or saved due to satellite communications, but we can certainly underscore the potential threat should such communication capabilities be denied in times of disaster, war or pandemic.
It took the shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in 1983 to prod President Ronald Reagan to accept civilian use of the Global Positioning System. This system continues to provide position, navigation and timing effects that not only help safeguard people but also ensure personal and global livelihoods via the banking and telecommunications sectors.
Space systems also are becoming more indispensable to the study of climate change. From the continual monitoring of global changes to the identification of contributing factors, these systems are providing a human preservation service that never should be denied.
Space denial — or, in some circles, space “control” — has a spectrum of possible manifestations, from the greatly abhorred space weapons (however they are defined) to access-denying rules such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. This denial threat may even be extended to the intentional or accidental creation of space debris. Regardless, not only must any action or inaction to threaten the operation or existence of these systems be resisted at all costs, but the commission of such denial should be regarded as a possible crime against humanity in order to provide a credible deterrence.
No doubt, there will be those space actors who may feel their national security should trump human security. Under mutually assured access, interstate security is enhanced via the freely shared access to both space and the capabilities such access brings. It is doubly secure: Mutually assured access provides stability in the provision of critical information and services, and also enshrines the dependency on that capability. In fact, the best example of this benefit-dependency symbiosis is the United States itself.
No nation, organization or person has the right to deny human access to space as it is our nature to expand to new territory for better distribution of the population. In some cases, this expansion promotes human preservation such that the denial of this expansion could very well place the species at risk, and this would extend to the establishment of human settlements on other celestial bodies. Furthermore, denial of human life-preserving, space-based information and services also can cause serious loss of life.
In the past century, crimes against humanity have been charged against dictators and regimes that were responsible for widespread murder and human suffering. Therefore, any doctrine or policy that purports to either deny space access or that can allow the inadvertent loss of space access should be viewed as a possible crime against humanity. Perhaps such a harsh judgment might cause some space actors to rethink their priorities.
Wayne A. Ellis is an independent consultant and space analyst for AppSpace Solutions Inc., a space awareness company.