Lawyers In Space!
As space becomes more of an area for commerce and travel, the lawyers aren’t going to be far behind:
There are stellar opportunities for lawyers specializing in space exploration. Space law is quickly becoming an integral part of the evolving aerospace industry. These lawyers exist in a tightly knit industry that deals with all kinds of practical issues and some that seem cribbed from science fiction. Depending on whether the space lawyer is in private practice or academia, he or she could handle anything from liability laws pertaining to litigious space tourists to the legal framework surrounding human encounters with E.T.
“Space tourists are usually high-income earners whose survivors can use high-powered lawyers–insurability for private space travel flights is a big issue at this time,” says space lawyer Doug Griffith, a former Marine Helicopter pilot now working within the commercial space industry. Like him, lots of space lawyers are veterans. And nearly all of them are space and science geeks who found a way to combine their passion for outer space with legal practice.
Space lawyers even have their own legal journal and university programs. The marvelously titled Journal of Space Law is published by the University of Mississippi Law School’s National Center for Remote Sensing, Air, and Space Law. Articles in the current issue deal with, among other things, death liability in commercial space flight accidents, international law relating to suborbital flights, and mineral rights for lunar mining. Students interested in space law also have the option of studying in the Space, Cyber, and Telecommunications Law program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; other law schools also offer space law courses within larger programs.
Surprisingly, it’s not the legal profession’s equivalent of a degree in fine arts. Far from it. Short of bumping into Alf, the final frontier for space law is extraterrestrial mining. Planetary Resources, the asteroid mining venture backed by filmmaker James Cameron and Googlers Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, is entering a legal gray area. “Outer space mining, in legal terms, is the Wild West,” Griffith tells Fast Company. Lawyer Michael Listner wrote an article on the topic that notes no one has truly figured out sovereignty laws for outer space and private, non-governmental exploration–the United States or China cannot claim sovereignty over an asteroid, but private corporations might. Planetary Resources, for their part, claims that asteroids do not count as “celestial bodies” regulated by the 1967 treaty because meteorites, which are asteroids that fell to earth, are not covered under it. If Planetary Resources really does succeed in starting up extraterrestrial mining operations, the value of the minerals it finds might pale in comparison to space lawyers’ billable hours.
Did you ever notice how there are almost never lawyers in science fiction? One episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation included Starfleet’s equivalent of a Judge Advocate General, but that’s it as far as I can remember. Perhaps that’s a sign that the great Space Lawyers experiment didn’t work out so well.
I’m also forced to wonder if sending our legal profession into the great beyond isn’t going to be seen by other forms of life as an act of aggression.
H/T: Dave Schuler