Space: both the final frontier and a hotly contested, legally gray area for humankind.
Lauren Peterson, a law student at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and a lifelong Los Altos resident, ponders space through the lens of the law. Her upcoming book, “The Future of Governance in Space,” examines what space law is and what that means for earthlings.
After graduating from Los Altos High School, Peterson quickly realized she wanted to be at the forefront of discovering new information and creating new policies and procedures. The renewed interest in space, thanks to technological advances and innovators like Elon Musk, meant that Peterson was in a prime position and location to insert herself into a growing field of work.
Peterson’s approach to space is an unusual one; in place of tinkering away in a laboratory or measuring the gravitational pull of a star, she instead places herself among the vast universe of words. Her interest in space lies within the governance of it. Peterson hopes her book, both approachable and digestible, will expose readers to the wonders of space and how mankind will govern and establish laws for it.
“It’s really exciting ... because what we’re creating today, and hammering out today, is going to affect (us for) millennia,” she said. “I think that going into space and utilizing it more is completely inevitable.”
Peterson added that “space has come to the forefront of headlines and funding because we are on the brink of this next great space age.” Silicon Valley is an especially prominent place to be, with NASA and Lockheed Martin jostling for control, along with Tesla, which recently relocated to Texas.
Space law has been around since the 1950s, but Peterson said it has not experienced such an intense resurgence of interest until recently.
“We’re seeing something that can create an entirely new economy ... like extraterrestrial natural resource mining and utilization,” she said.
The creation of space laws addressing how space will be governed will affect people in unexpected ways. For example, Peterson cited the concept of backward contamination (when foreign matter or bacteria is introduced to Earth) and how that will alter the daily lives of people on on Earth.
“We have to be very cognizant of the fact that we are bringing something to Earth, something that may not exist in our atmosphere,” Peterson said.
By introducing matter that does not exist on Earth, scientists could easily and accidentally alter the planet’s biological makeup and delicate ecosystem. That is where space laws will step in, according to Peterson.
The mutual agreements among nations to, for example, create more space stations as a buffer, safety protocols and handling practices are all space law. It will be vitally important to watch out for such situations, as they will become more common in the future, Peterson noted.
“The Future of Governance in Space” touches on all of this and more. She said the book, set to be released in April by New Degree Press, is appropriate for beginners and experts alike.
Peterson has launched an online campaign to help fund the costs of writing and publishing the book. For more information, visit igg.me/at/futureofspacelaw/x/25205599#.