Outer Space Treaty goes into effect, calming fears of space-based nuclear weapons | This Day in Space (10 Oct. 1967)

Today marks the day when the Outer Space Treaty, signed by the United States, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union in January of that same year, was enacted, calming fears of space-based nuclear weapon systems.

Post-World War II brought new fears, replacing homeland invasions with the possibility of a nuclear bomb dropped on a city at any moment. First, the unseen enemy started close, with launches from neighboring countries or with the use of large bombers, but soon it fell more distant. Then, with the development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, these could drop one or more nuclear weapons anywhere in the world, launched by a rocket in a silo half a globe away.

During the development of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, space exploration grew along with it. With the Soviet Union launching their first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957 and the United States following soon after. The next obvious step for the military was to place nuclear weapons in orbit around Earth, allowing for quicker destruction of their targets with just the touch of a button.

To stop this fear, the major world powers came together through the United Nations to develop a treaty banning the military use of outer space. That treaty is still used today to protect outer space, keeping it for only peaceful use and preventing celestial bodies from being claimed by nations. These are the key points of the Outer Space Treaty:

  • The exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all humanity;
  • Outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
  • Outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
  • States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
  • The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
  • Astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of humanity;
  • States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities;
  • States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects; and
  • States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

Is having the Space Force breaking the Outer Space Treaty?

No, the outer space treaty does not bar having a military branch focused on that nation’s space assets. It also does not bar a nation from having military assets in space, only the use of nuclear weapons, military occupation, and outpost in space. The Space Force is also not a new concept, nor are their missions new. The United States Space Force is currently just a reorganization of units from around the armed forces under one branch – redeveloping protocols to meet modern capabilities. This possibly saves taxpayers money rather than the contrary belief of wasting it.

Treaty not equipped to handle private spaceflight

When originally written, no one would have expected the private industry to take over space exploration. The Outer Space Treaty was primarily an arms control treaty, only focused on limiting what nations could do in space but neglecting private corporations.

This leads to a curious loophole that private corporations are exempt from these regulations. This also brings up the question of should private corporations be forced to follow these rules. Here in the United States, the federal government has passed laws regulating companies to many of the rules found in the treaty, but has also legalized celestial mining.

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