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Life In Outer Space And Our Responsibilities

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Wed, 25 Jul 2007 12:35:26 -0400
Archived: Wed, 25 Jul 2007 12:35:26 -0400
Subject: Life In Outer Space And Our Responsibilities

Source: Ceylon Daily News - Ceylon, Sri Lanka


25 July 2007

Life In Outer Space And Our Responsibilities

Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne

Common Heritage: Humanity’s foray into the solar system brings
out the ethical issue of what we should do if life is found in
outer space. Do we send more probes to further investigate and
do we have a responsibility to protect that life and allow it to
develop naturally?

If robotic probes definitively find life, should we erect a "do
not disturb sign" and refrain from sending further probes? Then
again, what if we were to find intelligent life forms closer to
the human form and not mere vegetation? Could we exercise
control over the welfare of such life and who would claim that

Space law is grounded on the principle that outer space is the
common heritage of mankind and that no State or individual can
therefore claim rights in rem to any portion of outer space. Air
law, on the other hand, is firmly entrenched in the principle of
sovereignty of States, so that a State may lay claims to rights
over the airspace above its territory.

This essentially means that while the implementation of air law
is heavily influenced by municipal law, space law is solely
grounded on legal principles binding on the community of
nations. Principles of public international law therefore play
an exclusive part in the application of space law principles.

Extraterrestrial life is life originating outside of the Earth.
Its existence remains hypothetical; there is no evidence of
extraterrestrial life that has been widely accepted by the
scientific community.

Most scientists believe that if extraterrestrial life exists,
its emergence occurred independently, in different places in the
universe. An alternative hypothesis is panspermia which suggests
that life might emerge in one location and then spread between
habitable planets.

These two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive. The study and
theorization of extraterrestrial life is known as astrobiology,
exobiology or xenobiology.

Intelligent life

American geneticist Joshua Lederberg introduced to the world the
science of exobiology (or astrobiology) - a branch of biology
which deals with the search for extraterrestrial life,
especially intelligent life, outside the solar system.

Although remote astronomical observations of a planet or other
celestial body provide information about its physical
environment, the determination of the presence of life on these
bodies is more difficult.

Exobiological techniques are designed to detect life forms,
artefacts produced by intelligent life, waste produces of
metabolic reactions, remnants of former life, prebiological
molecules that may reflect early evolutionary stages or
substances such as carbon or combination of Hydrogen and Oxygen
forming water that are necessary for the sustenance of life as
it is experienced on Earth.

In 1948 the U.S. Air Force commenced maintaining a file of
reports relating to extraterrestrial phenomena called Project
Blue Book. In July 1952, the U.S. government established a panel
of scientists including engineers, meteorologists, physicists
and an astronomer to investigate a series of radar detection
coincident with visual sightings near the national airport in
Washington D.C. The panel was organized by the Central
Intelligence Agency, which underscores the thrust of public and
government concern and interest at the time.

The concern was based on U.S. military activities and
intelligence and that its report was originally classified

Later declassified, the report revealed that 90 per cent of UFO
sightings could be readily identified with astronomical and
meteorological phenomena (e.g. bright planets, meteors, auroras,
ion clouds) or with aircraft, birds, balloons, searchlights, hot
gases, and other phenomena, sometimes complicated by unusual
meteorological conditions.

The publicity given to early sightings in the press undoubtedly
helped stimulate further sightings not only in the U.S. but also
in Western Europe, the Soviet Union, Australia, and elsewhere. A
second panel established in February 1966 reached conclusions
similar to those of its predecessor.

This left a number of sightings admittedly unexplained, and in
the mid-1960s a few scientists and engineers, notably James E.
McDonald, a University of Arizona meteorologist, and J. Allen
Hynek, a Northwestern University astronomer, concluded that a
small percentage of the most reliable UFO reports gave definite
indications of the presence of extraterrestrial visitors.


This sensational hypothesis, promoted in newspaper and magazine
articles, met with prompt resistance from other scientists.

The continuing controversy led in 1968 to the sponsorship by the
U.S. Air Force of a study at the University of Colorado under
the direction of E.U. Condon, a noted physicist. The Condon
Report, "A Scientific Study of UFO’s" was reviewed by a special
committee of the National Academy of Sciences and released in
early 1969.

A total of 37 scientists wrote chapters or parts of chapters for
the report, which covered investigations of 59 UFO sightings in
detail, analyzed public-opinion polls and reviewed the
capabilities of radar and photography. Condon’s own "Conclusions
and Recommendations" firmly rejected ETH - the extraterrestrial
hypothesis - and declared that no further investigation was

This left a wide variety of opinions on UFO’s. A large fraction
of the U.S. public, and a few scientists and engineers,
continued to support ETH.

A middle group of scientists felt that the possibility of
extraterrestrial visitation, however slight, justified continued
investigation, and still another group favoured continuing
investigation on the grounds that UFO reports are useful in
sociopsychological studies.

These varying views and attitudes were expressed at a symposium
held by the American Association for the Advancement of Science,
in December 1969. Several years later, in 1973, a group of U.S.
scientists organized the Center for UFO Studies in Northfield,
Ill., to conduct further work.

SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) is the
collective name for a number of organised efforts to detect
extra terrestrial life.

A number of efforts with SETI in the project name have been
organised, including projects funded by the United States
Government. The generic approach of SETI projects is to survey
the sky to detect the existence of transmissions from a
civilisation on a distant planet, an approach widely endorsed by
the scientific community as hard science.

What should we do if we find life in outer space?

What are we entitled to do if we found extra terrestrial life?"
Firstly, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 in Article II provides
that outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies
is not subject to national appropriation by claim or sovereignty
by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.

Furthermore, the Treaty, in Article III requires that States
parties to the Treaty shall carry on activities in the
exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other
celestial bodies, according to the principles of international
law, including the Charter of the United Nations, in the
interest of maintaining international peace and security and
promoting international cooperation and understanding. ‘Use of

There is no known principle or pronouncement of law which
mentions "extraterrestrial intelligence". Therefore, no existing
norm of international law prohibits social intercourse in outer
space between humans and extraterrestrial beings (if such were
to exist). The only prohibition which will obtain at
international law would be if such intercourse leads to the "non
peaceful" use of outer space by States.

It is incontrovertible that the absence of peaceful use of outer
space (when states indulge in activities in outer space) would
inevitably mean warlike or aggressive use of outer space.
Accordingly, such action would perforce form "use of force" by
such states on other states or persons affected by these

In a purely forensic sense, the fundamental postulate of space
law, which devolves upon States the responsibility to explore
and use outer space for peaceful purposes is pivotal to the
conjecture of extra terrestrial intelligence.

To start with, there were two United Nations General Assembly
resolutions on the subject. Resolution 49/34 of 1994, which
inter alia covered international co-operation in the peaceful
uses of outer space, links the importance of international co-
operation in developing the rule of law, including the relevant
norms of space law and their important role in international co-
operation for the exploration and use of outer space for
peaceful purposes.

The operative criterion for the adoption of the above aims, as
used by the Resolution, lies in the endorsement that they should
be achieved through international co-operation in the
development of the role of law. The Resolution therefore brings
to bear the ineluctable and compelling need for the application
of existing principles of international law as a means towards
this end.

The General Assembly of the United Nations, on February 5, 1996,
adopted Resolution 56/27 relating to international co-operation
in the peaceful uses of outer space. This resolution broadly
reaffirmed the principles of Resolution 49/34.

Having considered the Report of UNCOPUOS on the work of its
thirty-eighth session, the General Assembly endorsed the
Committee’s recommendation that the Committee should, through
its Scientific and Technical Sub-Committee, inter alia, consider
the use of nuclear power sources in outer space and questions
relating to space transportation systems and their implications
for future activities in space.

Matters relating to life sciences, space medicine and astronomy
were some of the areas that were focused on for further
consideration in the Resolution.

Peaceful use

On December 14, 2006, at its 79th Plenary Session, The United
Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 61/111 on
international co-operation in the peaceful uses of outer space.
This Resolution requests inter alia UNCOPUOS to consider, as a
matter of priority ways and means of maintaining outer space for
peaceful purposes.

Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty provides in part that State
Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility
for national activities in outer space, whether such activities
are carried out by governmental agencies or non-governmental

This provision clearly introduces the notion of strict liability
erga omnes to the application of the jus cogens principle
relating to outer space activities of States and could be
considered applicable in instances where States hold out to the
international community as providers of technology achieved and
used by them in outer space, which is used for purposes of air

Article VI further requires that the activities of non-
governmental entities in outer space shall require authorization
and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the
Treaty, thus ensuring that the State whose nationality the
entity bears would be vicariously answerable for the activities
of that organization, thereby imputing liability to the State

The Moon Agreement of 1979 provides that in the exploration and
use of the moon, States Parties shall take measures inter alia
to avoid harmfully affecting the environment of the Earth
through the introduction of extra terrestrial matter or
otherwise. In the field of international space law, two clearly
connected terms have been used: liability and responsibility.

Although "responsibility" has not been cohesively interpreted in
any legal treaty relating to outer space, "liability" occurs in
the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by
Space Objects, March 29, 1972 (Liability Convention) and is
sufficiently clear therein.

This, however, does not mean that State responsibility is not
relevant to the obligations of States law as, in international
relations, the invasion of a right or other legal interest of
one subject of the law by another inevitably creates legal

At present, one can regard responsibility as a general principle
of international law, a concomitant of substantive rules and of
the supposition that acts and omissions may be categorized as
illegal by reference to the rules establishing rights and

Shortly, the law of responsibility is concerned with the
incidence and consequence of illegal acts, and particularly the
payment of compensation for loss caused. Therefore, as
discussed, both treaty law and general principles of
international law on the subject of space law make the two
elements of liability and responsibility a means to an end -
 that of awarding compensation to an aggrieved State or other
subject under the law.

In view of the many legal issues that may arise, the primary
purpose of a regulatory body which sets standards on State
liability would be to carefully consider the subtleties of
responsibility and liability and explore their consequences on
States and others involved as they apply to the overall concept
of the status of a State as a user of space technology which may
cause harm or injury to the latter.

Finally, we have to be mindful of a few fundamental truths.
Firstly, if we come across any form of life in outer space it
will be the concern of all humankind. Second, any treatment of
such life, irrespective of the fact that it is found in outer
space, should be according to the principles of international
law and the United Nations Charter. .

Within these parameters, yes, we could send more probes to
investigate further. Yes, we could even put up a "do not disturb
sign". But whatever we do, we are bound by the principles of
responsibility and international accountability to treat life in
outer space with the same dignity accorded to life on Earth.

The writer is the Coordinator, Air Transport Programmes
International Civil Aviation Organisation, he is also a member
of the Space Law Committee of the International Law Association
Montreal, Canada.

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