INTEREST IN SPACE LAW: PART II: WHY BOTHER WITH SPACE SCIENCE?
When we think of space, we think of going to the Moon and going to Mars and all the other planets; and we think Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong. However, we fail to realise that the simple everyday things of life which affect us are as a result of space technology: telecommunication, transmission of information, GPS location services and tracking transponders in the air and sea. We take all these for granted. Telecommunication, GPS navigation and timing technology satellites are in space. Without them, financial institutions would not function and so we may not be able to do “internet banking” or withdraw money from automated teller machines (ATMs). We would lose all satellite-based television and internet and weather forecast. There will be no travel by air or sea using transponders and Instagram would not work on some phones; there would be no Facebook or Twitter or Webinars (horrors of all horrors!). Some hospital systems need satellite integration to function, too.
Space science offers several benefits to man in all his fields of endeavour.
A. Education: Space-based technologies, such as satellite communications, web and videoconferencing and voice over internet protocol allow educators and students to create virtual classrooms, regardless of their physical locations. Other versions of distance learning allow learners to access web-based course materials on their own schedules, and communication between students and teachers may take place through e-mails, message boards or video recordings.
Beyond facilitating programme delivery, space also plays an inspirational role in education. Classes on space topics often spark students’ curiosity and imagination and encourage youth to become increasingly involved in the sciences. Furthermore, the excitement of space travel gets young people interested in space science. Astronauts, a source of inspiration to the public, encourage and motivate young people to study in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Experiments performed in space help us understand the health problems associated with aging and sedentary lifestyles. The effect of zero gravity on aging issues, heart issues, and bone marrow and density issues are studied to improve our understanding of the human body.
B. Satellites in our daily lives: Since the first satellite was launched into orbit in 1957, space technology has evolved rapidly. Today, a growing number of satellites orbit the Earth, making various earth observations, communications, aero and ocean navigations and science applications possible. Flights and ships are directed on their courses by data sourced from satellite imagery. Land transportation (shuttles, ubers) also uses maps sourced by satellite imagery.
C. Agriculture: In Agriculture, space-based technology is of value to farmers, agronomists, food manufacturers and agricultural policymakers who wish to simultaneously enhance production and profitability. Remote-sensing satellites provide key data for monitoring soil, snow cover, drought and crop development. Rainfall assessments from satellites, for example, help farmers plan the timing and amount of irrigation they will need for their crops. Accurate information and analyses can also help predict a region’s agricultural output well in advance and can be critical in anticipating and mitigating the effects of food shortages and famines. In agricultural regions near the fringes of the Sahara desert, scientists used satellite images to predict where locust swarms were breeding and were able to prevent the locusts from swarming, thus saving large areas of cropland.
D. The environment: For the environment, space-based technologies, such as remotely sensed data, have enhanced scientific understanding of water cycles, air quality, forests and other aspects of the natural environment. Because remote-sensing satellites cover the entire globe, they are important for the study of large-scale phenomena like ocean circulations, climate change, desertification and deforestation. Satellites make it possible to monitor environmental changes caused by human activity and natural processes. Because data are collected in a consistent manner, satellites can reveal subtle changes that might otherwise remain undetected. For example, the well known Ozone Hole over the Antarctica and the phenomena of atmospheric ozone depletion were discovered using satellites.
Space, with the help of remote-sensing satellites, provides a unique vantage point from which to monitor the Arctic and the oceans and the creatures in these regions and respond effectively to the distinct challenges and opportunities found therein.
E. Disaster and risk management: Climate change has various consequences, including floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, melting of polar icecaps, and rising sea levels. Several satellites monitor signs of climate change, such as melting ice and rising waters and the data collected are thus used to better understand this global phenomenon, propose more effective solutions and evacuate humans from danger paths, aiding in disaster and risk management. The use of space for collection of data therefore cannot be overemphasised as it is a disaster management tool used to provide early warning signals of natural disasters which help to mitigate the consequences of these natural disasters.
F. Communication: Daily life for a large portion of the world’s population now involves sharing information via mobile phones, personal computers and other electronic communication devices. Space-based technologies, namely communications satellites, enable global telecommunications systems by relaying signals with voice, video and data to and from one or many locations. Long distance and overseas calls would be impossible without satellites to effect talking on cellular phones! Communications satellites are the most economical way to connect world communities, even the most remote, with the advanced services needed to compete in the global knowledge economy.
G. Medical Research and scientific discoveries: Researchers conduct many important scientific experiments onboard the International Space Station towards understanding cardiovascular health, investigating bone strength, heart health, and immune system changes in microgravity, testing astronaut disorientation with virtual reality, studying plant biology, monitoring radiation, testing reflexes and skin sensitivity and generally making the Space Station feel like home.
Furthermore, some medical technologies are inspired by robotics in space. Some of these include performing risky surgical operations using minimally invasive surgeries or revolutionizing neurosurgery with robots and other spin-offs from space technology.
H. Sustainable Development/Planning: Space-based technologies provide unique tools for planning socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements. Remote-sensing technology has helped mapmakers. With satellite imagery, they can produce maps in a fraction of the time it would take using laborious ground surveys.
I. International Peace: In a bid to understand space travel, several countries go into partnerships which promote world solidarity and peace. For instance, 5 entities (Russia, Japan, Canada, the United States and Europe (11Atates via the European Space Agency)) are partners of the International Space Station (ISS), a research laboratory in space that orbits the Earth. The ISS has many pressurized modules or habitable sections filled with breathable air. Every day, the ISS circles the Earth 16 times, a distance roughly equal to a round trip to the Moon!
In 1958, shortly after the launch of the first artificial satellite, the General Assembly of the United Nations decided to establish an ad hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPOUS). Since that time COPOUS has evolved, and the Committee and its two Subcommittees have become unique platforms for States to come together to review the scope of international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, encourage continued research and the dissemination of information on outer space matters, and study legal questions arising from the exploration of outer space.
J. International Security: Satellites in space also help in fighting insecurity. The global monitoring of and reconnaissance of trouble spots to gather intelligence or to follow flight patterns of crime lords or understand high crime neighbourhoods is made possible via the use of satellites launched into space.
K. Jobs: Several countries are leaders in space robotics or have space programs which create employment for citizens. Jobs, internships and career opportunities abound in the space field.
Careers in space include:
Astronauts who are modern-day explorers who travel beyond the Earth to help discover new scientific knowledge.
Engineers, who design, build and maintain systems and spacecraft using math, science and technical knowledge.
Lawyers who draft space law and policies, multilateral space agreements and commercial agreements for space travels, exploration and mining.
Medical doctors and health science experts who provide astronauts with clinical support and conduct research on how space affects organisms.
Microbiologists/Scientists who study various phenomena and develop theories based on scientific observation.
Technologists/technicians who construct, test and operate space equipment and instruments.
Info graphics, visuals and images professionals related to careers in the space sector.
Space presents a unique opportunity for cooperation in using and sharing enabling infrastructure and data towards the proactive management of disease outbreaks, natural resources and the environment, responses to natural hazards and disasters, weather forecasting, climate change mitigation and adaptation, agriculture and food security, peacekeeping missions and conflict resolution.
It is therefore imperative that Nigeria must without delay improve on its space technological infrastructure by adequately funding its space agency and revving its space policy to compete with advanced nations.
ANNE AGI, LL.M is a legal practitioner, space law enthusiast, member of Women in Aerospace Africa and co-founder and trustee of the LEARNSPACE FOUNDATION. She can be reached on 08057311292. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org