Where does space begin?

ABC News (that’s Australian Broadcasting Corporation, mate) posted an article earlier this week about the “legal mire” that space tourism is facing. The biggest issue the article discusses is the lack of an official demarcation of space: how high to you have to be to be in space? Says Steven Freeland of the University of Western Sydney: “If we look at space tourism … [people] are going to want a certificate that says ‘I’ve been in space’, not ‘hey you’ve been very high up in the air’.” The most common altitude is 100 km (also known as the von Karman line); that’s the altitude used for the Ansari X Prize competition as well as the official boundary of space in Australian law.

That and other issues (like the definition of “astronaut”) suggest to Freeland that current space law is antiquated and in need of an overhaul to reflect the realities of space tourism, as opposed to the government-run space programs of the 1960s. “You have to have legal certainty [about] what law applies, whether it’s international air law or international law of outer space or a combination of both.”

9 comments to Where does space begin?

  • Zen Punk

    I think to call space tourists “astronauts” does a great disservice to the men and women who work for years and sometimes give their lives to carry out missions of exploration and scientific research. I think the term astronaut should be reserved for those who go to space professionaly to carry out activities there.

  • Zen Punk, you are an elitist. How about we call them professional astronauts? What’s the point of having a professional astronaut corps; to glorify the astronauts? No, to open space and astronautics to everyone! Do you call a general aviation pilot not a pilot?

    Re: the article. Funny how they managed to get persnickety about subjects that the market has had no problem deciding on, but miss liability and safety standards.

  • Zen Punk

    I don’t think that astronauts are better than anyone else who goes into space. I just don’t think that the word is appropriate for people who go just for the experience as opposed to piloting the spacecraft, retreiving a satellite etc. If you take a cruise, are you a sailor? You do have to train and qualify to be a “pilot” as well, though one could be referred to as such without flying for a living if one holds a license. Up to now, almost everyone who has gone into space does it for a living. It’s really just semantics – I think the distinction between those who get paid to do it vs. those who pay to go should be acknowledge. Ultimately, the general public will decide if everyone who goes into space is an “astronaut” or if some of them are “astronauts” and some of them are “space tourists” by using the words enough that it becomes common parlance.

  • Chris Mann

    I just don’t think that the word is appropriate for people who go just for the experience as opposed to piloting the spacecraft

    Oh bullshit.

    All a shuttle astronaut does is push the button to lower the landing gear. Even that would have been automated like the Buran had the astronaut corps not made such a big stink about it.

  • Zen Punk

    Are you contending that an astronaut does nothing unique and could be replaced at any point in a mission by an inexperienced, untrained person? Docking, manuevers such as the RPM, and landing are not fully automated. The pilot would not be flown if he was useless.

  • Chris Mann

    No, I’m suggesting they could be replaced by a very small shell script.

  • Chance

    If I am wrong please correct me, but my understanding is that some personnel trained in certain programs at NASA get the title astronaut, even though they never go into space. Isn’t a bit ludicrious to say someone who has went into space isn’t an astronaut, while someone who hasn’t is?

    I’d rather we dropped the term altogether, and the people on the station and shuttle get called what they are: “government employees”.

  • That’s because “Astronaut” is an official US government job title. Obviously, those on shuttle and station have met the criterion (flown) that you question.

  • Chance

    Obviously. And obviously the other government employees haven’t.

    As I said, all terms will eventually fall by the wayside. Nobody calls people who fly in planes or blimps “Aeronauts” anymore.

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