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Space jurisdiction, a field addressing what countries can enforce various laws in space, has become more important as the private sector enters the field of space tourism. According to the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, known as the Moon Treaty, the jurisdiction for all laws regarding heavenly bodies is turned over to the international community.
The majority of international treaties currently in existence address only specific aspects of space. No major treaties have been passed that have broad, sweeping jurisdiction in space, and it is largely unclear who would enforce such laws. The treaties currently in existence regarding space law include the following:
- Outer Space Treaty, which limits orbiting weapons of mass destruction, related to the Partial Test Ban Treaty.
- United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), which addresses the legal problems of space exploration.
- Moon Treaty
Trade in space
Issues of trade and crime in space have not been debated except with respect to the International Space Station. Agreements have involved all units in operation including Europe, the United States, Russia, Canada, and Japan. Three basic levels of agreement include:
- International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement, an international treaty signed on Jan. 29, 1998 by the fifteen governments involved in the Space Station project. This governmental-level document provides for teamwork between the involved countries in a peaceful Space Station.
- Four Memoranda of Understanding, an agreement between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and each co-operating Space Agency: European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The objective of these space agencies-level agreements is to specify the roles and responsibilities of each agency in the design, development, operation and utilization of the Space Station.
Space marriage is a relatively unexplored but emerging attraction of space tourism industry in the private sector. As more private companies start to travel into space, the demand for such services as marriage in space may increase.
Successful space marriages
On August 10, 2003, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko became the first human to marry in space. A provision in Texas marriage laws, that says one party does not have to be present so long as the couple presents an affidavit explaining why one of the two participants in the ceremony can't attend, allowed Malenchenko to marry his bride, Ekaterina Dmitriev, from the International Space Station.
Future of space marriage
Most international treaties today regarding space apply to the use of space for generally scientific purposes. In the future, space jurisdiction will play an integral part in developing international space law. The international community allowing space marriage raises questions relating to the jurisdiction under which space marriage and other legal concepts may fall.
The majority of space laws that exist today are concerned with international treaties established to maintain peace and use space only for cooperative, scientific purposes. Perhaps additional laws concerning the specifics of marriage may be enacted in the future when space becomes easily accessible to the general public.
The future of space jurisdiction
Because countries are prohibited from claiming any resource in the solar system due to our common world heritage, trade in space may face various obstacles in the future.
Serious crimes committed in space in the future will likely fall under the jurisdiction and laws of the United Nations, and be heard by the International Criminal Court (ICC), an independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The ICC is based on a treaty signed by 103 countries.
Many countries also have extraterritorial jurisdiction over offence such as murder committed abroad by their nationals, and it is likely that a national government may attempt to exercise jurisdiction over spacecraft in a similar manner to ships and planes, e.g. US federal law on NASA spacecraft, Russian federal law on Russian spacecraft. This would, however, leave jurisdiction on the International Space Station unclear.
There are groups pushing for the higher priority of developing space law now, so that it is properly instated and understood before commercialization of space in the coming century.