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Human Environment and the Expanse of Space: Toward a Consistent Approach

Published onJun 01, 2020
Human Environment and the Expanse of Space: Toward a Consistent Approach

Human Environment and the Expanse of Space: Toward a Consistent Approach As the Kessler Syndrome ebbs ever closer in an era of commercial space growth, defining the extent of our responsibilities to future generations in the management of space becomes paramount. To be sure, the nations of the world could decide to authorize the operations for a limitless (for argument’s sake) number of satellites, telescopes, and other space objects. However, a chaotic regime of functional objects and space debris of varying sizes would result. In this context, how do space-faring nations and the collective international community manage the use of space? In the United States, the National Environmental Policy Act established the Council on Environmental Quality to promulgate regulations requiring federal agencies to include the environment in their actions. However, neither NEPA nor the CEQ Implementing Regulations include definitions of “environment” that explicitly include the non-terrestrial regions. That being said, they not expressly exclude it. In fact, a strong argument exists that – given the purpose of NEPA and an examination of the applicable language – the “environment” for NEPA purposes includes any aspect of space affected by humans. That being said, the federal agencies do not seem to agree. In fact, despite authorizing and licensing the operations of satellites in space, the FCC determined in 1986 that most of its activities do not invoke environmental concerns. Of those that might, a consideration of space and the effects within it need not be included. And thus, the FCC’s interpreted definition of “environment” falls short. Consequently, it becomes imperative to delineate the parameters of environment. More importantly, we must decide whether our obligations to the future should necessarily include a responsible management of space. If so, how far? Quite reasonably, humankind should consider the effects its conduct might have anywhere. And, as perplexing as it may sound in 2020, it should be anywhere we extend our reach. Given the astronomical community’s intimate relationship with and knowledge of space, it makes critical sense to explore this perspective among astronomers and astrophysicists. From this community, we can perhaps begin to perceive a “prime directive” of sorts and advocate its adoption among and within the international community.

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