From the Ground Up

Things are looking up in the world of politics… no like literally.


Art By Fiona Real

Up, up, and away! This, and much more is what can be said for the future of politics and policy in space. The economization of space by companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX has raised hopes as well as questions for what it means for humans to inhabit space. “Human-kind’s presence in space has sparked conversations such as “Does the concept of property and territory exist in a place without mass?” and “Can the economic structure of Earth function in space?” 

 To answer questions like these, it is first necessary to examine current political theory and philosophy. 

First of all, what are astropolitics? Stemming from the theory of geopolitics (the political implications of geography), it is the politics of space. Specifically, how politicians and organizations regulate proceedings in space. But what separates astropolitics from its more grounded predecessor is the idea that much of space has no tangible boundaries. Therefore is it possible for any singular entity, country, or corporation to own a territory in space? Currently, there is no simple answer.  “Usually, when there’s a body there that has the authority to regulate, [that political body] will develop more comprehensive law, and more comprehensive policy.”  Carl Livingston, a professor of political science at Seattle Central College, explained.  Outer space does not contain a ruling political body that can impose these comprehensive regulations. With regard to what already exists (the Outer Space Treaty, the Moon Treaty, Artemis Accords, etc.), Livingston is not convinced that the treaties and policies we have now are comprehensive or sustainable. “I don’t believe any of our treaties regarding outer space are complete. We have treaties about the atmosphere around the earth. And then we have treaties concerning outer space….Would it be enough to make sure that two nations with [nuclear weapons], if they keep going the way they’re going with the militarization of space, from hitting each other [or] from having an accident? I don’t know.”

Among the eagerness for what it means for humans to inhabit the final frontier, there are concerns of countries acting in imperialistic self-interest. Currently, outer space operates under a similar political structure used for territories and jurisdiction of Earth’s oceans, meaning international law is being employed. This, like much of the current laws of space, is seen as outdated because of how rapid economization of outer space has been. Elon Musk, the owner of SpaceX, has plans to claim land on Mars with the intention of building a city. Livingston expressed concern for what will happen when the richest and most technologically advanced countries use their heightened resources to act against what he refers to as “the fair, political destinies and, and wellbeing of the other nations of the world.”He elaborated, “If we allow the strongest and the most technologically advanced to do whatever they want [in a] largely anarchic order, then they’re going to be left to do just that.” Livingston said. “If we don’t advocate so that it’s more than the strong get to dictate and the strong and the wealthy we could have already skewed that outer space situation to the detriment of all of the rest of the world.” Livingston warned. 

It’s a big world out there, and it gets even bigger. And while it may seem like average people are unable to be involved in these big decisions and advancements, this is not necessarily true. Staying informed and making sure to be an active member of your local political sphere is one of these ways to stay involved. For more information regarding the latest on the political happenings of space, Astropolitics: The International Journal of Space Politics & Policy publishes regular scholarly articles that anyone can enjoy.