Space starts 62 miles away, but in the past few months it has felt much closer.
Just yesterday, a pair of Japanese robots may have landed on an asteroid, as part of the country’s research efforts and amid a surge in startups focused on asteroid mining. Last week saw finger-pointing reminiscent of the Cold War over possible sabotage of the Soyuz Spacecraft used by Russia and the U.S. Every other week, there’s another rocket fired into space by one of several eccentric billionaires, who are also trying sell you tickets for orbit (or to colonize Mars). Recently, SpaceX started its launch of thousands of satellites into space to beam internet virtually anywhere in the world. And earlier in the summer President Trump prompted plenty of head-scratching and Star Wars puns with his surprise announcement of a Space Force.
That’s a lot of activity, fueling intense discussions and fiery debates about the commercialization and militarization of space, the proper role of humans in our galaxy, and the future of humanity. Yet it’s all guided by an outdated set of rules that were established a few years before Neil Armstrong took that first fateful step on the moon. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty was shaped by paranoia over the space race between the Soviets and the Americans, and even the brightest minds of the time couldn’t anticipate the complexities of now and tomorrow.
In a long-overdue effort to prepare for that future, on Tuesday the UN will use the 50th anniversary of a Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to “renew and strengthen its mandate” and to call attention to…