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«LEGAL AND ETHICAL FRAMEWORK FOR ASTRONAUTS IN SPACE SOJOURNS Proceedings 29 October 2004 House of UNESCO 125, avenue de Suffren, Paris 7e Legal and ...»

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Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air, Warsaw, October 12, 135 for Japan see KOWAL, Legal Pre-requisites, Astrium/EADS Working Paper (2002), p. 25 for the status of astronauts see CATALANO SGROSSO, Legal Status Rights and Obligations of the crew in Space, in Journal of Space Law 1998, vol. 26, p.163 The term “spaceflight participant” is suggested for a series of persons not strictly astronauts, see article “Principles Regarding Processes and Criteria for selection, Assignment, Training and Certification of IIS (Expedition and Visitings) Crewmembers”, of 2001 in web site: www.spaceref.com see JAKHU & BHATTACHARYA, Legal aspects of space tourism, cit. note 24, p. 119 and foll.

Legal and ethical framework for astronauts in space sojourns

rules of the Code which the astronauts are required to understand and accept. Crew members are required to conform to the dispositions indicated in the Code, the application of which is in force the moment they are assigned to a specific mission and until post-flight activities are completed.

Since art. 5 of the IGA establishes that each State maintains jurisdiction and control over its personnel, it has been necessary to involve the States in the decision and internal application of the Code rules.

For European astronauts, being all members of the European Astronaut Corps (EAC), the mediation for the determination of the Code rules has been carried out by ESA in accordance with the decisional power forwarded by European States. In the United States, Japan, Russia and Canada the rules of the Code have become an integral part of the employment terms and conditions for astronauts, whether employment is carried out directly by national agencies or through governmental appointment139.

The Code, to be known, approved and observed by each astronaut in contact with the Station, determines common behavior rules, the extension of the Commander’s authority, hierarchical relationship in orbit and with those responsible for the mission on ground. In actual fact, as an initial application, such rules have been respected.

However, some questions on jurisdiction and control arose in the event of unusual situations, such as when the Station or vehicle’s astronauts were engaged in extravehicular activities or in the case of visiting-astronauts (space tourist).

The novelty of the introduction of the concept of nationality, concerning jurisdiction over the crew, added to the concept of territoriality, according to the IGA rules, appears to be somewhat outdated and no longer justified in these new situations. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty could only have foreseen the existence of single objects, built and registered by a single country. The subsequent existence of an International Space Station in which many countries co-operate and supply personnel, has required the extension of the jurisdiction of the State over its personnel even when it is within a module belonging to another Partner. Hence the link of jurisdiction over the crew to the nationality of each individual and not only to his presence within a specific space object.

However, when crew members of the transport vehicle or members of the Station carry out extravehicular activities, in the event of maintenance or connections, it seems that application of jurisdiction – in some Partner States practice and legislation – is the same of the country the transport vehicle or Station module from where the EVA astronauts come from. Considering the co-operative nature of the programmes to be carried out, there is a need for rules established by parties taking form of “actuation agreements” or “flight rules”, such as established by the Code of Conduct, laying down competencies, sphere of command and relationship with the Ground Directors.

After verifying the accordance of the Code rules with the local legal systems, each government of the European Partners wrote to the Director General of ESA authorising acceptance, that is to say ratification of the Code itself.

Subsequently the Director General addressed a directive to the EAC Partners inviting them to subscribe to the terms and conditions of the Code. In accordance with the regulations adopted for creating the staff of European astronauts, see LAFFERANDERIE, The European Space Agency and the Astronaut’s Policy, Proc. of the 41st Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space, IISL Melbourne 1998, p. 356;see FARAND, The Code of Conduct for the International Space Station Crews, ESA Bulletin 105 (February 2000), p. 64 and foll

Legal and ethical framework for astronauts in space sojourns

Broadening commercial exploitation of the Station to space tourism has led to the presence of visiting-astronauts. For the latter, who are at times not nationals of any Partner State, the concept of nationality for jurisdiction would not be suitable. In this case, specific “rules of road” to be respected have been established and, in general the space tourist is submitted to the jurisdiction and control of the State of registration of the spacecraft where he is on board and also to the Commander’s authority when he is on board of the ISS.

Finally, the Intergovernmental Agreement is a structure of rules which can be considered as a framing law, since it considers more or less specific details for general questions, while it refers more specific questions, such as crew management, to regulating documents on the matter specifically established for the Space Station.





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The current profession of astronaut is very unique from many points of view. In particular, viewed from the astronaut him/herself the following aspects merit consideration.

No land Obviously astronauts discharge their duties outside all countries of the world. The Space Station is not on any country and requires specific rules for itself. Astronauts are affected personally because everything that they do, as for any other human being, will be judged against some rules, specially if they make mistakes or act without due care for whatever reason. Therefore it is in their utmost interest that it becomes clear which laws must be abode by. As an example, we could state use of symbols. In some countries, it is punishable to display foreign symbols like flags unless the local symbols are displayed more prominently. Of course in normal circumstances nobody will sue the crew under United States law for displaying, say, a Russian flag without an American flag during a TV interview. But in principle it could happen if US law applies. Rules about protection of data are much more strict in Europe and it is conceivable that US astronauts may be infringing European law by simply using their normal procedures.

The solution of these questions is complex and astronauts do not receive much detailed information as part of training Effects of weightlessness The environment in which astronauts work is rather extreme and produces in a majority of people some discomfort, ranging from disorientation to very severe motion sickness. For this reason, it is conceivable that people will be more prone to mistakes in these circumstances. This has an effect on the ethical framework, since everyone need to pay attention to this fact when dealing with crewmembers, specially in the first days of a space flight. In some extreme cases, astronauts need to be forgiven some things they did or, most commonly, did not but should have, during the first days.

Isolation vs. Scrutiny There is a commonplace phrase about space: you are isolated, “nobody can hear you scream”.

Indeed the mechanics of space flight makes it very difficult for anyone in a space ship to expect

–  –  –

any help from the ground, unless it is in the form of information and advice. However, the authority for operations lies on the gound control team, in particular with the Flight Director.

Certainly there is some delegation of authority, but not nearly as much as it would seem natural because of the isolation.

It is natural that everyone on ground is wondering what the astronauts are doing at every moment, and their every word is hundredfold scrutinised, as are the detectable consequences of their actions. In that way, the crew on board is indeed and feels very much under scrutiny for everything they do – a common source of tension for every human worker. To complicate matters, most of the time all space-ground conversations are broadcast on publicly available channels.

Since the astronauts never have contact with their authorities but by radio or written messages, it is a natural development of being in space to develop a certain level of detachment from them, a strong “we-them” dialectics. This all astronauts know and attempt to compensate, but in some cases it has led to conflicts and rejection of authority by the crew members.

Another related aspect is that the sole fact of the isolation is a stress factor for the group itself and there have been cases also of conflicts between crew members.

High Productivity Not unique of space flight certainly, but the profession of astronaut is amongst the most hardpressed to permanently show high levels of output. Flying in space is very costly and naturally the authorities expect to have the best possible value out of their investment.

Astronauts are aware of that and in general keep in mind at all times that every minute of their work is worth hundreds of times more when they are in orbit than on ground. Conversely, the ground control team tries to plan their days to the fullest extent possible within certain regulations. It is common to have days in which activities are planned back-to-back with little room to rest and less to correct mistakes.

Due to the high level of scrutiny, mistakes, slowness or any other anomalies are very hard to miss by ground control. Obviously most people in the Control Centres understand that the crew is made of humans as they are. But astronauts are only too aware that their conversations are permanently aired on television channels and internet broadcasts around the world and not everyone is so accommodating.

An astronaut having some kind of slight trouble has to work hard against a tendency to overwork him/herself to try to overcome it, both for the success and productivity of the mission and to avoid giving a bad impression on ground.

Unique Laboratory Research by commercial companies is normally done under confidenciality: innovations must be kept within the company until patents are granted or products are released, to keep competivity edge. This is usually implemented by having secure laboratories within company premises, with access restricted to trusted employees.

Legal and ethical framework for astronauts in space sojourns

However, any commercial research that needs conditions of weightlessness must be done in the Space Station by astronauts. This leads to important and complex regulations that ensure data gets to its rightful owners and to nobody else, and the crew members have to be bound by confidentiality agreements and be trusted by the companies.

This is an unique area where very detailed regulation is needed, taking into account also the extraterritorial status of the Station.

Attention of people/media Astronauts are still, in many parts of the world, considered exceptional human beings and almost

heroes because of the extraordinary journeys they make. Two important aspects are interrelated:

personal image and that of the agency/program they work for.

In order to maintain or improve the public image of the Space Agencies, they use the assets they have at hand like scientific or technological results, profitability of the investment, and in general the impact that eventually all they do has on daily life and on the general economy. But by far the most powerful asset they have is the people that went to space and came back to tell everyone what they felt. Astronauts appear in front of the public or on the media, and thus Agencies obtain most of their image and publicity. On the other hand, astronauts are forced to keep in mind this power in everything they do even in normal daily life, since mistakes would be amplified the same way (or more).

Personal image is linked to this last aspect. Astronauts are considered by many societies as “celebrities”, and for that reason they may have advantages as well as drawbacks. Space Agencies are ill-equipped to handle celebrities, and it is common that during most of their lives astronauts have to handle their status personally without help. Celebrities are expected by current society to handle large amounts of money, which they get from lending their image to commercial enterprises. It is not understood by our society that a celebrity may simply be a public servant, and there are natural mechanisms that help regulate this. For example, if a judge or any other public officer becomes a celebrity, he/she will get a large amount of offers to appear at shows or give speeches. From them, that person will obtain funds that will compensate for the fact that a celebrity simply cannot afford to go where normal persons go – using public transport, for example, can turn into an oddisey for a person known to all.

Space Agencies vary greatly in their consideration of this issue. Some act like agents of their astronauts, where outside remunerations are shared between the agency and the employee, others give no support but put certain restrictions, and others interpret that common regulations, in their general wording, should be interpreted as forbidding outside income. All Agencies, of course, have strict regulations about the statements an astronaut may make in public and their relationship with the general institutional views.

Conclusions Legal and Ethical discussions about people who live and work in space should be informed and take into account a certain number of special factors that affect astronauts and make their job different, thus in need of the discussions themselves. This short paper is an attempt at systematizing somehow which areas are of interest in this matter.

Legal and ethical framework for astronauts in space sojourns

Astronauts will welcome developments that give them a better framework for their activities.



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