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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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So, if space missions involve an ethics of sacrifice (linked to medical experimentation), is then an ethics of outer space simply about astronaut duties and obligations? What about entitlements or protections. Do astronauts have any entitlements? A concern with astronaut entitlements might be opportune when it comes to thinking about – as well as designing – future space environments. The ethical principle to protect against harm and damages relating to scientific research, and the importance attached to upholding human rights and freedoms through the 76 Another issue for space medicine is immediate returns: how to make return benefits to taxpayers and commercial interests here and now, ‘back’ on Earth, instead of worrying about the Martian explorers of some future generation.

In other words, sacrifice as temporally linked to the present moment, rather than a cyclic future-bound [anticipated] ‘return’.

77 Columbus is ESA’s biggest single contribution to the International Space Station (10 year projected lifespan). The Biolab supports experiments on micro-organisms, cell and tissue culture, small plants and animals.

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concept of ‘human dignity’ in international ethics regulation extends obviously to the concrete realities surrounding astronauts’ working conditions on board the spacecraft.

The first thing to say is that space stations are types of ‘communities’. They are types of communities in the sense that astronauts will always be expected to co-exist with fellow astronauts. In other words, the basis of the mission is a collective enterprise: it is dependent on relations of co-existence: one performs one’s tasks as a dedicated group, rather than as single individuals. As an aside, it is worth noting that relations of co-existence feature not only in orbital space, but as complex networks or relational ‘interfaces’ on the ground. Take the Columbus Laboratory. The plan for Columbus on the ground is to involve researchers all over Europe, who will be able to control their own experiments directly from several User Centres or even directly from their workplaces. Their efforts will be channelled through the Columbus Control Centre in Germany which will interface with the module itself and also ESA NASA partners in the United States.

But to stay focused for the moment on the actualities of life aboard a station – the astronaut in orbit. There have been several previous cases of experiential isolation, problems to do with confinement, issues around sensory deprivation. All these have been documented in terms of psychological difficulties and tensions between astronauts, or as fraught relations with ground crew. It is the risk of aborted missions, such as the 1976 Soyuz-21 mission to the Salyut-5 space station; the Soyuz T-14 mission to Salyut-7 in 1985; or the Soyuz TM-2 mission to Mir in 1987, that poses a threat – both to human security and life, as well as to the experimental mission – the continuation of science in space. (I understand Monsieur Farand and Professor Redfield are to extend on this further in Session III this afternoon.) Now the point about recognising space stations as types of communities is important if we are to consider how the ethical status of the astronaut may be linked to cultural difference. The point is simply that an ethics of outer space needs to recognise how relations of interdependence are governed by different cultural sensibilities, aspirations and norms. Let me just give a few examples.

Designing experimentation: knowledge spaces as architectures of space science Despite his extensive prior training and familiarity in the Russian language, Norman Thagard, the first American astronaut to spend time aboard Mir, found life aboard the spacecraft a difficult professional experience. He is reported to have felt an enduring sense of isolation. Not just physical isolation. What pressed in upon Thagard was the relentlessness of his cultural isolation.

He felt completely alone.

McDonnell Douglas, the company partially responsible for equipping Mir’s interior (designed as a six berth habitation module), was the first NASA contractor ever to hire a social anthropologist to study the interactions of people in space. In the early 1990s, Dr Mary Lozano interviewed astronauts from America, Europe, Japan and Russia and reported her findings on significant cultural preconceptions between and amongst crew teams78. Regarding decision-making and relations with ground control, Lozano noted some of the tensions between the Americans and their Japanese space counterparts. Crew from the US appeared to others to make hasty decisions, and often without group consensus, while Japanese astronauts in demonstrating a strong “We know people can get on each other’s nerves, especially in what we call a “trapped environment”. Imagine the problems that occur if you come from widely differing cultures” (Lozano cited in Bizony 1996:112).

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preference for shared decision-making and social harmony also often confused their individualistic Anglo-speaking colleagues by tending to say ‘yes’ when they actually meant ‘no’.

I use the example simply to note one might begin to think about space ethics in terms of conditions or preconditions for survival in precarious science environments. Producing and consuming food is obviously a basic feature of survival for any social grouping – this applies whether we are talking about hunter-gatherer communities, agrarian farmers, pastoralists, or the sophisticated marketing operations underpinning food promotion in complex post-industrial society. When it comes to subsistence in outer space, this relies largely on the availability of preserved foodstuffs; pre-manufactured and pre-packaged meals and drinks that offer little variety and no freshness: that is to say, one eats what has already been prepared. Food consumption is about the reconstitution of formulas that were made originally back on earth. In the anthropological study, Lozano found that Dutch and French members of the ESA Spacelab programme expressed concern about the causal regard to mealtimes by American crew members.

To the Europeans, the Americans displayed considerable lack of attention to the objects of cuisine; this had a ritual component to it in the sense that dinner-time was not treated as a social break – a ritualised ‘getting together’, a moment for commensality. American astronauts, they thought, seemed to eat functionally: they ate simply because it was time to refuel their bodies.

I’ve mentioned a little about food and mealtimes – the point has been to see this as an example of cultural difference and non-standardisation. If a basic bodily function or requirement resists standardisation (in other words, food preferences prevail), other forms of non-standardisation may be endemic to the astronaut’s immediate habitat, the spacecraft environment itself. I am referring to cultural perceptions of design layouts (and, in pragmatic terms, their relevance for safety issues). To the British mindset a switch is an instrumental device that ‘switches’ on and off, while for North Americans switches are instruments that ‘turn’. Or, if flashing red warning lights alert NASA crews to danger, in other contexts and for the peoples of the Far East, the colour red may sometimes symbolise good fortune. A device on an instrument panel cannot presume automatic universality, nor should automatic conformity with western standards be presumed.

Americans often use the word ‘control’ for switches, levers and dials: ‘thrust controls’, ‘attitude

controller’, and so on. To Russians, the word ‘control’ denotes only one administrative meaning:

‘mission control’ or ‘state control’. Ask a cosmonaut to locate a steering control and he will think in terms of some authority in Moscow that determines in which direction he should fly. These are all types of design decisions whose outcomes will impinge directly on the status of professional astronauts and the quality of their time during active engagement in space missions. That the American light-switch custom of ‘up’ for ‘on’ is one that is not universally recognised by other nations tells us also about how knowledge spaces might be alternatively conceived as new architectures for doing space science.

If astronauts make returns to society through acts of personal and bodily sacrifice, what can be given (back) to astronauts in terms of the way science is designed – the way money is invested into space missions? Such questions might be how one starts to think about the entitlements society owes to astronauts.


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Finney, Ben 1985. Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience, Berkeley, California: Univ. of Calif. Press.

Fogg, M.J. 1995. Terraforming: Engineering Planetary Environments, Society of Automotive Engineers, Warrendale, Pennsylvania.

Galison, P and E. Thompson (eds) 1999. The Architecture of Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Genta, G. and M. Rycroft 2003. Space, the Final Frontier. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Haskell, G & M. Rycroft (eds) 1998. Space and the Global Village, Kluwer:


Healey, P. 2004. Scientific Connoisseurs and Other Intermediaries. Workshop Report for the ESRC Science in Society Programme, Oxfordshire, UK. 11-12 March.

Kondo, Yoji, Frederick Brahweiter, John Moore and Charles Sheffield (eds) 2003.

Interstellar Travel and Multi-Generational Space Ships, Apogee Books. Canada.

Pompidou, Alain / UNESCO World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific

Knowledge and Technology [COMEST]. 2001. The Ethics of Space Policy. Paris:


Schmidt, Stanley & Robert Zubrin 1996. Islands in the Sky: Bold New Ideas for Colonising Space. N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.

Space: A New European Frontier for an Expanding Union. An Action Plan for Implementing the European Space Policy. (EU White Paper on Space Policy) http://europa.eu.int/comm/space/whitepaper/whitepaper_en.html UNESCO World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology [COMEST]. 2004. The Ethics of Outer Space. Policy Document – Working Document. Paris: UNESCO.

Zubrin, Robert. 1999. Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilisation, Tarcher/Putnam: New York.

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1. Comment et dans quelle mesure les règles juridiques protectrices des personnes trouvent-elles à s’appliquer aux astronautes, au regard des nécessités de la protection de leur intégrité physique et morale ? L’interrogation ici formulée est celle d’un juriste de droit privé, et non pas d’un spécialiste des astronautes. C’est dire que la réflexion ici menée sera en partie l’occasion de poser des questions, plutôt que d’asséner des vérités (le juriste sait qu’il n’y a guère de vérités en droit, mais au moins est-il là pour poser des questions).

D’emblée il y a lieu d’établir un lien entre cette contribution, consacrée au droit, et celle, qui suit, de Monsieur Jacques Arnould, relative à l’éthique79. Les deux interventions ont même point de départ, à savoir qu’avant tout, l’astronaute est une personne (rappelons que la personne est un concept juridique) et un individu (concept davantage éthique ou philosophique). Mais ensuite se pose la question de savoir dans quelle mesure cette individualité de l’astronaute est, ou pourrait être, transcendée par le statut de fonctionnaire de l’astronaute et sa qualité d’envoyé de l’humanité, ou bien, dans les propos plus prospectifs de Monsieur Jacques Arnould, par son appartenance à une communauté, une colonie qui s’implanterait dans l’espace.

2. On constate dans les droits contemporains, spécialement depuis la seconde moitié du XXe siècle, une montée en puissance de la personne humaine, objet d’attentions croissantes, objet primordial du droit. En France, ce phénomène a été décrit par un grand juriste, René Savatier, dès la fin des années mille neuf cent cinquante, comme la « promotion juridique contemporaine de la personne »80. Combien les faits – et le droit – lui ont donné raison depuis lors ! Toute l’évolution contemporaine du droit se fait en ce sens, qu’il s’agisse des sources internationales ou européennes du droit ou des droits nationaux. Ainsi, la Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme de 1948, mais aussi et surtout la Convention européenne de sauvegarde des droits de l’homme et des libertés fondamentales de 1950, d’applicabilité directe, contribuent-elles puissamment à cette valorisation contemporaine de la personne. Faisant largement écho à ces déclarations, voire les ayant précédées, les droits nationaux ne sont pas de reste. Qu’on prenne seulement l’exemple de la France pour observer le chemin parcouru en un siècle, du début du Les caractéristiques initiales de cette contribution liées à sa forme orale ont été en grande partie conservées.

* Cf. Infra p.44 80 R. Savatier, Les métamorphoses économiques et sociales du droit privé d’aujourd’hui, Troisième série, Approfondissement d’un droit renouvelé, Dalloz, 1959, p. 5 à 29.

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XXe siècle à nos jours. Au seuil du XXe siècle, alors que le Code civil de 1804 était peu disert – c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire - en la matière, la doctrine commença à théoriser les droits de la personnalité81. La notion d’ailleurs a connu un tel succès que la crainte est parfois exprimée aujourd’hui de voir tout le droit dans sa dimension protectrice de la personne ramené aux droits de la personnalité. Comme le constate le Professeur Philippe Malaurie, « il y a aujourd’hui une tendance à faire entrer presque tout le droit civil dans les droits de la personnalité : le mariage, la liberté contractuelle, le droit de propriété, la filiation, le droit de succession, le droit moral de la propriété littéraire et artistique, mettent en cause la personnalité. De la même manière, on pourrait aussi rattacher l’ensemble du droit aux droits de l’homme. Tout serait-il droits de la personnalité et droits de l’homme ? Ce serait une vue démesurée et confuse. Les droits de la personnalité sont plus précis : ils mettent en cause directement la personnalité »82.

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