An interesting workshop conducted at Princeton explores some contemporary issues in Space Ethics and Policy.
The workshop focused on the implications and responsibilities engendered when exploring outer space while avoiding harmful impacts on the planetary body –
The workshop participants developed a revised framework to address “harmful contaminations”.
Introduction and background –
Cospar – Planetary protection policy has been to avoid contamination of planetary environments – by biological contaminants or terrestrial microbes that could compromise current or future scientific investigations –
2006 – National Research Council (NRC) report on preventing forward contamination on Mars – (Prevcom) – raised similar concerns –
Should extend beyond protecting the science and move towards protecting the planet –
COSPAR Bureau and Council in 2008 was expected to examine –
1. The ethical implications and responsibilities to explore Mars and in a manner that minimizes the harmful impacts of these activities on potential biospheres – (whether suspected or known to be extant)
2. Whether revision to current planetary protection policies is necessary to address these concerns and,
3. How best to involve the public in such a dialogue about the aspects of planetary exploration.
The Goals of the meeting were to determine –
1.Whether planetary protection measures and other practices should be extended to protect other aspects of planetary environments within an ethical and practical framework that goes beyond ‘‘science protection,’’
2.If so, what would be the bases for such policy and ethical framework? and
3. What other implications and responsibilities are engendered when seeking to explore outer space in a manner that avoids harmful impacts on potential indigenous biospheres and other aspects of a planetary body?
Background Information and Tutorial Topics:
1. Information on planetary protection policy and implementation. (COSPAR 2011).
2. A Review of the 2006 NRC study on preventing forward contamination on Mars, prospects for finding extraterrestrial life in the solar system.
3. Possible impacts on the long term contamination and human activities in space.
4. Ethical Considerations in space exploration and perspectives on the moral status and ethical principles related to the value of life and environments.
5. The Legal Landscape associated with space exploration, possible approaches to governance and management that blend ethical and scientific perspectives.
e.g.: (UN Convention on Biological Diversity, planetary parks. )
6. Proposed stepping stones towards space exploration that acknowledges multiple stakeholders.
In addition to current COSPAR Planetary Protection policies’ protection of biological constituents should we conduct solar system exploration to minimize or eliminate other possible negative effects on those bodies.
1. Potential ( but currently undetected) indigenous biospheres in the further future –
2. Non – Living aspects of a body that do not effect scientific study – ( historical, scenic etc, )
3. Other aspects of preservation and stewardship that would make sense to extend into the rest of the solar system.
4. Which ethical constructs support/require the additional protections. Which might argue against them?
5 What revisions or additions to current COSPAR planetary protection policies would be necessary to address these additional considerations and protections.
6. Would a convention on planetary protection/harmful contamination extending Article IX of the UN Outer Space Treaty ( in the manner of the convention on Bio Diversity) be feasible / desirable as a way to provide elaborations of expanded planetary protection policies.
7. How should we best provide for public engagements with solar systems exploration and involve the public in the dialogue about the ethical aspects of planetary protection.
8. What revision or additions should be considered on the present policy.
9. Is now a good time to be doing this.
Overview of Preliminary Subgroup Findings:
Question by Question overview of the issues examined and the recommendation:
Questions 1 & 2:
In addition to the current COSPAR planetary protection policy’s protection of biological/organic-constituent science opportunities, should we conduct solar system exploration to minimize or eliminate other possible negative effects? Which ethical constructs support/require the additional protections? Which might argue against them?
1. Both subgroups responded in the affirmative to the question of whether we should conduct solar system exploration in ways that minimize or eliminate other possible negative effects. on celestial bodies (beyond prevention or biological contamination).
2. Important to first start with baseline ethical approaches and constructs as they apply to living and non-living things
3. Draw considerations from stewardship and protection on Earth –
4. More discussion is needed on how the ethical principles used on Earth apply to the context of outer space and varied future scenarios (e.g.: science vs other activities, governmental, non-governmental)
What revisions or additions to current COSPAR planetary protection policies would be necessary to address these additional considerations/protections?
Even though everyone agreed that revisions and additions are necessary to planetary protection policy. No attempts to revise the Outer Space Treaty Language itself my modifying either Article IX (planetary protection provisions). or Article VI (liability provisions).
Proposed revisions to integrate ethical considerations can likely be accomplished through COSPAR and it’s long standing review of and advisory processes.
Would a convention on planetary protection/harmful contamination extending Article IX of the UN Outer Space Treaty (in the manner of the Convention on Biodiversity) be feasible/desirable as a way to provide for elaborations of expanded planetary protection policies?.
Both subgroups felt strongly that any modifications to policy should be handled without changing the scope of the UN Outer Space Treaty (United Nations, 1967) and without involving changes in intergovernmental agreements.
More detailed examination of the policy framework recommended that may provide model strategies or approaches to among multiple international bodies and users.
1. Orbital Debris Agreements.
2. United Nations.
3.International Conventions on Biodiversity –
4. Habitat and environmental management approaches.
6.Use GuideLines –
7.Cumalative Impact Assessments:
8. Preservation and Protection Requirements:
What revisions or additions to current planetary protection policy should be considered in support of such a broader engagement/ dialogue, if any?
How to integrate ethical considerations policy has actually two focal areas:
1. Current Planetary Protection Policy aimed at avoiding biological contamination and interference with sceince and exploration (target bodies and control measures )
2. Addressing the policy gap in the realm of environmental management and contamination control for all activities and users of celestial bodies.
General Agreement that planetary protection policy as currently implemented should remain separate and focused on science target bodies and contamination control measures.
Entirely separate and parallel policy is likely to be needed in addressing environmental management of large areas and/or entire bodies.
How should we best provide for public engagement in solar system exploration and involve the public in a dialogue about the ethical aspects of planetary protection?
Is now a good time to working on this? If not, then when?.
– Increase in the potential of discovery of extra’ life forms and the great increase in exploration activities anticipated in coming years.