Some Precedents for a Constitutional Right to Space Travel

by Patrick Q. Collins

As background to the proposal for a constitutional clause guaranteeing the right to space travel, the following two statements by officials of the US federal government are useful.

In an article describing an international conference on "The Future of Transatlantic Military Space Relations", held on October 11, 2004, at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), ["Trans-Atlantic Military Space Cooperation Faces Hurdles", Space News, Vol 15, No 41, p18] Peter de Selding quoted a number of statements by Major General Michael A. Hamel, then Commander of the 14th Air Force, U.S. Air Force Space Command.

During his speech, among other comments, Major General Hamel stated: "We regard space as the commons of mankind. Space objects are considered sovereign. We respect the principle of non-interference, that there are no claims on celestial bodies, and that no weapons of mass-destruction will be deployed in space. We also respect the right of self-defence. The United States will abide by international agreements on space exploitation."

In a more recent article, ["Not With a Bang, But a Whimper", Space News, October 16, 2006, Vol 17, No 40, pp 19-20] Theresa Hitchens, Director of the Center for Defense Information at the World Security Institute, and author of "Future Security in Space: Charting a Cooperative Course", discusses the USA's new "National Space Policy".

Hitchens draws particular attention to the greatly increased emphasis on military uses of space in comparison to the previous U.S. policy published in 1996. Nevertheless, she also quotes the following sentence from the new policy: "The United States considers space systems to have the rights of passage through and operations in space without interference" and points out that this remains consistent with "..the right of passage in space, the freedom of which is a solid tenet of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which the United States is a signatory".

Consequently it seems clear that the formal enshrinement of the individual human right to travel to, from and through space in written constitutions which we are proposing is not an infringement on any existing rights, but is a restatement of the status quo from the individual's point of view. The new clause therefore should not be opposed, even by militarists, but should welcomed by all who are concerned to achieve the greatest economic and social freedom within a just framework of law.

As a further detail, Hitchens also explains that the 1996 policy stated: "The United States considers the space systems of any nation to be national property with the right of passage through and operations in space without interference."

The body of space law developed during the cold war assumes that all space activities are the responsibility of the government of "the launching state" (a phrase of which the meaning remains controversial even today). As an example, deSelding also reported that USAF officials at the 2004 conference "..stressed their commitment to the right of all nations to have free access to space."

In order to move towards the situation in which space travel is as freely available as air travel, it seems desirable for this government responsibility for all space flights to be limited appropriately. With this in mind, removing the earlier reference to "national property" would seem to be a positive step, at least in principle.

Finally, I would add that, as a European, I hope that the EU may be the first organisation to include the proposed language in its Constitution (assuming that a satisfactory draft is eventually produced and accepted). This would set a highly desirable and visible precedent in the field of space development which is so vital to the achievement and maintenance of a peaceful future for the human race. And then on to inclusion as an Amendment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights!


[020.PC.TDF.2006 - 11.11.2006]