Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are . . .
Like the words of the nursery rhyme reveal, long before the early man figured out how to record history with paintings on cave walls, he always looked up at the heavens in wonder. The early man gazed in awe at all the ineffable sights in the space above him and he was amazed. Little wonder he worshipped the sun and other celestial bodies, attributing the many other things he did not understand to the mysterious nature of the heavens above. The stars and these celestials were, after all, ‘up above the world so high’.
When man grew wise enough to see the folly in worshipping the sun, he was filled with questions; questions that he was ill-equipped to answer.
- Why is the sky blue?
- Why is the sun so hot even though it is so small and so far away?
- What hand hides the moon only to reveal it after a while?
He even went as far as wondering how the earth stayed flat while everything else around it took the form of perfection: a circle. His curiosity led him to discover outer space and culminated in interstellar travel and all the cool things we know about the space around us. With his entrance into space, man has since reaped and continues to reap loads of benefits.
What is space? It is a continuous area or expanse which is free, available or unoccupied above and beyond our atmosphere.
There is no specific point in altitude that marks the beginning of space; thus, expecting to find a Goodbye From Earth signpost is akin to a candle’s prayer in a thunderstorm! Although there is no exact point in altitude where the atmosphere ends and space starts, some countries use the Karman line (100km above the earth’s surface) to define the point where space begins. Where the air ends and the air law regime (governed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) begins and where space begins is one of those things that the international community has not been able to agree on.
SPACE SCIENCE: In a bid to understand space, man began to study and research issues specifically related to space, spaceflight/travel and space exploration. This is what is today referred to as Space Science. It is the study of everything above and beyond the surface of our planet: from Earth’s atmosphere to the furthest reaches of the universe.
Relevant fields in the space science include –
Astronomy: A natural science that studies celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole. So No! Astronomy is not demonic, neither is it witchcraft!
Astrophysics: A branch of space science that applies the laws of physics and chemistry to explain the birth, life and death of stars, planets, galaxies, nebulae and other objects in the universe.
Planetary science or planetology is the scientific study of planets, moons, and planetary systems and the processes that form them.
Aerospace engineering is the primary field of engineering concerned with the development of aircraft and spacecraft.
Aeronautics is the science or art involved in the study, design, and manufacturing of air flight–capable machines, and the techniques of operating aircraft and rockets within the atmosphere.
Astrobiology is the study of life in the universe. The search for life beyond the Earth requires an understanding of life, and the nature of the environments that support it, as well as planetary, planetary systems and stellar interactions and processes.
Earth observation is the gathering of information about the physical, chemical, and biological systems of the planet via remote-sensing technologies, supplemented by Earth-surveying techniques, encompassing the collection, analysis, and presentation of data.
OUR SOLAR SYSTEM
Back when the earth was still flat and Jupiter and Mars were gods, astronomers believed the sun, moon and stars revolved around the earth and the earth was the center of the universe. In the 17th century, Galileo discovered the spherical nature of Jupiter and its lunar satellites which ushered in a new age of stellar research and findings and eventually led astronomers to the true nature of our planetary system called the Solar System.
The Solar system: is the gravitationally bound system of the Sun and the objects that orbit it either directly (the planets) or indirectly (moons). Our solar system is one of the over 500 planetary systems in the Milky Way formed over 4 billion years ago. While our galaxy, the Milky Way, is home to billions of stars, only 15% of its stars holds up a planetary system, our sun being one of them.
Revolving around the sun are 8 planets. They are categorized into two due to their composition: Terrestrial planets (hard and rocky surface) and Jovian planets (liquid or gaseous surface).
Terrestrial planets include Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.
Jovian planets include Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
Besides the 8 planets, there are many other celestial bodies within our solar system: Asteroid Belt, Kuiper Belt (with its dwarf planets) and Oort Clouds).
A BRIEF HISTORY OF SPACE TRAVEL AND THE EVOLUTION OF SPACE LAW
Centuries after Galileo’s discovery and subsequent persecution for his ‘heretical’ belief in the earth’s spherical nature, man continued his unending march of evolution and technological progress. From horse-drawn carts to automobiles and finally, aeroplanes, after great effort and centuries’ worth of research, man had a breakthrough and took his first step into the great unknown . . . Space!
On October 4, 1957, the world was stunned by the news of an Earth-orbiting artificial satellite launched by the then Soviet Union. Called Sputnik I, the satellite was the first successful entry in a race for space between the two superpower nations of the era (the US and the former USSR). Less than a month later, the Soviets followed with the launch of a satellite carrying a dog named ‘Laika’ on board. Laika survived in space for seven days before being put to sleep before the oxygen supply ran out.
A few months after Sputnik 1, the United States followed the Soviet Union with a satellite of its own. ‘Explorer I’ was launched by the U.S. Army on January 31, 1958. In October of that year, the United States formally organized its space program by creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA became a civilian agency with the goal of peaceful exploration of space for the benefit of all humankind.
Yuri Gagarin made history as the first man in space. Soon, many people and machines were launched into space. Astronauts orbited Earth and landed on the Moon. Robot spacecraft travelled to the planets. Space was suddenly opened up to exploration and commercial exploitation. Satellites enabled scientists to investigate our world, forecast the weather, and to communicate instantaneously around the globe. As the demand for more and larger payloads increased, a wide array of powerful and versatile rockets had to be built. Rockets have opened the universe to direct exploration by humankind.
Evolution of space Law
All these developments led to the evolution of space law; for, when Sputnik 1 launched into space, it orbited over the territory of other States. Interestingly, there was no government protest or claim of invasion or sovereignty from these nations (possibly because everyone was in awe????), leading to the creation of customary international laws wherein space was (and is) treated as a new territory not belonging to any State. With the United States launching Explorer 1 after the Soviets, there was a need for clearly defined rights and obligations to bind States in space exploration. Accordingly, the United Nations wasted no time in creating the Committee for Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in 1958 (COPUOS) to oversee the activities of the space-faring nations and any legal problems which may arise in the exploration of outer space.
First era: 1957-1979: About a decade after the establishment of COPOUS, the major space treaties like the Rescue Agreement of 1965, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the Liability Convention of 1972 and the Registration Convention of 1975 came into being. This period spanned 1957 to 1979 and is referred to by some jurists as the ‘Classical period’ as it is the period where major documents and structures of space law were conceived. During this era, space activities could only be done by States and their governments but not by private entities. Towards the end of this era, it was agreed that private entities could participate in space activities but their governments would take responsibility for their liabilities.
Second era: 1980 – 1991: The second era that followed, referred to as ‘the transitional period’, spanned 1980 to 1991 and saw more States becoming more involved in space activities. With the entrance of new actors, divergent views and opinions arose. This era birthed the Moon Treaty of 1984; and, as commercial applications made space activities more diverse, domestic space Law and bilateral treaties rose to the rescue to fill in gaps.
Third era: 1992 – Present: This is the modern era of space activities; our own era. It is characterized by increase in technology and commercial use of space. This period evidences the rise of the new space actors (private commercial investors in space activities) and the use of space technology for economic and sustainable development.
There are some really interesting facts about space.
- Profound silence of space: There is no atmosphere in space, which means that sound has no medium or way to travel to be heard. Astronauts use radios to stay in communication while in space, since radio waves can still be sent and received.
- Life outside earth: Of all the planets in our solar system (apart from Earth), Mars is the one most likely to be hospitable to life. In 1986, NASA found what it thought may be fossils of microscopic living things in a rock recovered from Mars. So yes, there is a high chance that man is not alone in the universe.
- How many stars are there in the universe? The sheer size of space makes it impossible to accurately predict just how many stars we have. Right now, scientists and astronomers use the number of stars only within our galaxy, the Milky Way, to estimate. That number is between 200-400 billion stars and there are estimated to be billions of galaxies; so the stars in space really are uncountable.
- Poor Earth: As space facts go, this is pretty impressive. Research by Yale University scientists suggests that a rocky planet called 55 Cancri e – which has a radius twice Earth’s and a mass eight times greater – may have a surface made up of graphite and diamond. (It’s abbreviated as ‘55 Cnc e’ and is formally named ‘Janssen’). The Diamond Planet is estimated to be worth $26.9 nonillion (26.9 plus 30 zeros) which makes the Diamond Planet worth 384 quadrillion times as much as planet Earth’s GDP ($70 trillion), according to Forbes. It is 40 light years away but visible to the naked eye in the constellation of Cancer. (A constellation is an area on the celestial hemisphere in which a group of stars form an imaginary outline or pattern, typically representing an animal, mythological person or creature, or an inanimate object).
- Cold Welding: This incredible fact happens because the atoms of two pieces of metal in space have no way of knowing they are separate. This does not happen on Earth because of the air and water found between the pieces.
- Space Water: Somewhere around 10 billion light years away, astronomers have found a massive water vapor cloud which holds 140 trillion times the mass of water in the Earth’s oceans, making it the largest discovery of water ever found.
There are other interesting facts about space that can easily birth a smile or frown, but then all this chatter about space – good as it may be – seems like a very good way to pass the time or an aimless pursuit at best; this very thought begs the question: What is the point?!
In our concluding segment, we will explore the possible answers to this question.
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: email@example.com