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Ethics of Planetary Science and Exploration  

Jacques Arnould

Since the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957, the development of space activities has provided a kind of evidence for the conduct of human affairs, to the point of neglecting to question these activities from an ethical point of view: only since the beginning of the 2000s has a real ethical interrogation within the space community (French Space Agency, International Space University, COPUOS) been developed, in parallel with international law. Taking advantage of a rich cultural background and a cooperative sustained effort, space ethics contributes, for example, to better management of debris orbiting the Earth, evaluation of the social impacts of observation satellite systems, and the arrival of new private entrepreneurs apparently less aware of the impacts of managing space as a common heritage of humanity. If space law provides a possible framework and a set of principles for the current and future management of space activities, ethical principles must be considered to accurately assess their reasons for being and their consequences. The following questions are pertinent today: Has space become a trash can? Is space “Big Brother’s” ally? Is space for sale? Should space be explored at any cost? These issues require special expertise of the situation (e.g., the distribution of debris around the Earth, the capabilities of observation satellites); consideration of the global, dual (civil, military) nature of space; and reference to ethical principles (responsibility, vigilance). Human space flight, space tourism, and the search for extraterrestrial life are also subject to ethical questioning. At the beginning of the 21st century, space ethics remained a goal for the space community.

Article

Space Resource Utilization  

Angel Abbud-Madrid

Throughout human history, resources have been the driving force behind the exploration and settling of our planet and also the means to do so. Similarly, resources beyond Earth will make space the next destination in the quest for further exploration and economic expansion of our species. The multitude of celestial bodies surrounding Earth and the space between them hold a vast wealth of resources for a variety of applications. The unlimited solar energy, vacuum, radiation, and low gravity in space, as well as the minerals, metals, water, atmospheric gases, and volatile elements on the Moon, asteroids, comets, and the inner and outer planets of the Solar System and their moons, constitute potential valuable resources for robotic and human space missions and for future use on our own planet. In the short term, these resources could be transformed into useful materials at the site where they are found to extend mission duration and to reduce the costly dependence on materials sent from Earth. Making propellants and human consumables from local resources can significantly reduce mission mass, cost, and risk, enabling longer stays and fueling transportation systems for use within and beyond the planetary surface. Use of finely grained surficial dust and rocks can serve for habitat and infrastructure construction, radiation protection, manufacturing parts, and growing crops. In the long term, material resources and solar energy could also be brought to Earth if obtaining these resources and meeting energy demands locally prove to be no longer economically or environmentally acceptable. However, just like on Earth, not all challenges to identify, extract, and utilize space resources are scientific and technological. As nations and private companies start working toward extracting extraterrestrial resources, an international legal framework and sound socioeconomic policies need to be put in place to ensure that these resources are used for the benefit of all humanity. Space resources promise to unleash an unprecedented wave of exploration and of economic prosperity by utilizing the full potential and value of space. As we embark on this new activity, it will be up to us, humans on planet Earth, to find the best alternatives to use resources beyond our planet effectively, responsibly, and sustainably to make this promise a reality.