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Legal Definition of Astronauts and Personnel of a Spacecraft

Discuss about the Astronauts And Personnel Of A Spacecraft.

The international law relating to the outer space denotes space travel by ‘astronauts’ and ‘personnel of a spacecraft’. According to the Outer Space Treaty, no precise definition for the astronauts has been provided but the astronauts are known as ‘envoys of mankind’. In the Moon Agreement, the provisions stipulate that the state parties shall consider any person on the moon as astronaut[1].

The legal status accorded to astronauts by the Outer Space Treaty does not specify whether commercial space tourists shall fall within the scope of the definition provided for astronauts. Since the development of the space law, there were no issues relating to the status of the spacecraft passengers as the only participants of space flights were the cosmonauts and the astronauts. However, the growing issue in the contemporary era is related to the legal status, rights and obligations that the state parties owe to the commercial passengers. This principal reason that led to the issue is the lack of precise definition of the term ‘astronaut’ who are identified as ‘envoy of mankind’ and the uncertainty about the fact whether the term ‘space tourists’ shall fall within the category of astronauts.

The inclusion of the term ‘space tourists’ within the scope of the above terms is intricate due to the fact that the treatise have been defining these terms in different ways which results in different connotation[2]. While interpreting the international law, it relies on both the intention of the drafters of the provisions and the ordinary meaning of the words used in the provision. Several authors and professionals have attempted to remove the ambiguity of the term ‘astronaut’ and many have suggested that the term ‘astronaut’ implies a scientific meaning whereas ‘personnel of a spacecraft’ advocates a functional meaning. As per the principles and rules of the international law, the astronauts refers to people who perform professional activities that involves use and exploration of outer space and the celestial bodies. The Outer Space Treaty or the OST has accorded the astronauts with the status of a symbolic value by referring them as ‘envoys of mankind’ in the outer space. The statutory protection and the special status accorded to the astronauts are justified in relation to the mission they perform and the risks they incur while carrying out their professional activities.

The terms and the legal status accorded to the astronauts does not seem to include space tourists, the sole reason being, that the former carry out their professional activities for the benefit of the public unlike the latter who venture into space for personal pleasure. Therefore, if the variations prevailing within the original meanings of the terms are brought together, it can be asserted that the present privatization and commercialization of the space activities was not taken into consideration when the agreement was drafted[3]. This is because at the time of drafting the agreement, the drafters did not foresee that the private entities might take part in the space related activities.

Legal Status of Space Tourists

Since there is no precise, legal definition provided for the term ‘space tourist’, it is important to assess whether the clients of space tourist fall within the ambit of the definition provided for the term ‘astronaut’ and whether the visitors of the International Space Station are accorded with the same status that is accorded to the astronauts. While the Outer Space Treaty was being drafted there were no discussion whether private person would fall within the category of astronauts. With the commencement of the commercial spaceflight opportunities, it has become more important to determine whether the private spaceflight participants should be considered as astronauts and enjoy the same rights and obligations as is enjoyed by astronauts.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to evaluate the extent of training that is required for a passenger to acquire the legal status ‘a person who has received professional training’ that is otherwise accorded to the astronauts by the International Space Law. Further, it is difficult determine the altitude factor and implement it with respect to the space tourists and is subject to legal clarification.

Since the term astronaut is not a defined term but merely a legal status, the following functional test could be applied in for the purpose of determining whether the space tourists such as teachers, engineers, filmmakers, etc could fall into the category of astronaut. As per the legal status given by the international law to the term ‘astronaut’ it may be categorized into the following three conditions:

  • An astronaut must be a person;
  • An astronaut must perform professional activities involving exploration of outer space and celestial bodies;
  • An astronaut must perform such activities for the benefit of the public;
  • The activities must carried out in compliance with the principles and rules of the international law;

While the persons designated as astronauts fulfills all the above conditions, the space tourists may not be able to satisfy the last three conditions as unlike the astronauts they would be carrying out the space-related activities for profit and not for the benefit of the public. There is another functional test that is connected to the definition provided under the Article V of the Outer Space Treaty be applied to determine whether the space tourists can be defined as astronauts[4]. According to the definition, the legal status of ‘astronaut’ applies to persons who must be:

  • inside an object the that is located in space;
  • perform the space related activities for public benefit of all countries;
  • considered as an envoy of mankind in outer space;

As observed in the earlier test, the government personnel shall satisfy all the above conditions but the space tourists shall not be able to satisfy the second and third condition as they engage in the commercial activities for personal benefit either in the form of profit or recreation. Another test for astronaut that concentrates on the functional part would consider astronauts as persons who are engaged in activities related to space flight and those persons who have undergone training for such space flight. Where the government personnel’s would satisfy the requirement but a reasonable amount of doubt remains in relation to the space tourists regarding their fulfillment of the requirement[5].

Objectives and Purpose of the International Law

The definition provided under Article V in the OST can be compared to the use of the term ‘astronaut’ in the context of the domestic law. NASA in the United States uses the term ‘astronaut’ to refer to those who have joined NASA corps of crewmembers bound for the Earth orbit and beyond. The professional crew members include pilot, commander, flight engineer, mission specialist and payload specialists. Further, in Russia, the spaceflight crew members include flight engineer, Researcher-Cosmonaut, Flight commander. In the absence, of any established definition of the term ‘astronaut’ it is evident that there is a clear tendency of differentiating between the private and professional participants to spaceflights[6].

In this context, the US Commercial Space Launch Amendment Act (CSLAA) of the United States has provided a more detailed legal framework with respect to the commercial spaceflight. It refers to ‘Spaceflight participants’ as someone who must require license for a launch vehicle to carry human being for compensation. This proposed definition implies that it is the trained professionals who are capable of carrying professional work in outer space including operating the spacecraft itself who should be considered as ‘astronauts’ as was the intention of the drafters of Article V of the OST[7].

Thus, the interpretation process stipulated under article 31 of the Vienna Convention should be adopted to construe whether private persons fall within the category of astronauts. According to Article 31, a treaty shall be construed in good faith as the ordinary meaning given to the terms of treaty in the given context, purpose and object. While interpreting the treaty regard should be had to, any subsequent agreement entered into between parties with respect to the interpretation of the treaty, any relevant rules of international law applicable with respect to the relations between the parties[8].


In regards to these shortcomings of the test for defining ‘astronaut’ for future commercial space tourists, and the usage of the term ‘space participants’ in the Rescue Agreement, the Congress has provided a definition for the legal status of the space tourists in accordance with the jurisdiction under Article VI and VIII of the OST[9]. The legal status for private entities involved in licensed commercial space activities under 51 U.S.C. 50902(2) defines ‘crew’ as ‘any employee of a transferee or licensee who is engaged in activities carried out in the course of the employment and is directly related to the reentry, launch, or any other operation in the launch vehicle that carries human beings’. Under 51 U.S.C. 50902(17), ‘space flight participant’ has been defined as ‘any individual who is not crew, carried within a launch vehicle’. These two provisions eliminate the space tourists who have otherwise failed to satisfy the ‘astronaut’ test under the International law and they are granted the legal status of an astronaut under the domestic law.

The legal obligation of the Rescue Agreement specifies that unless ‘crew or space flight participants’ does not pass legal test of ‘astronauts’ the statutory obligation of the state parties to the OST Treaty to render assistance shall not be applicable to the participant in distress. Nevertheless, despite the stringent interpretation of the Rescue Agreement with respect to its application /non-application to commercial entities, the spaceflight participants or crew shall be rendered assistance in emergencies[10]. The state parties to the OST are under statutory obligation under the Treaty and the Rescue Agreement to provide necessary assistance to the space flight participant or crew in emergencies if not on moral grounds but to avert any political and public condemnation.

References

Abeyratne, Ruwantissa. "Some Preliminary Space Law Principles for Consideration by ICAO." Regulation of Commercial Space Transport. Springer International Publishing, 2015. 105-112.

Chang, Yi-Wei. "The first decade of commercial space tourism." Acta Astronautica 108 (2015): 79-91.

Danilenko, Gennady M. "International law-making for outer space." Space Policy 37 (2016): 179-183.

Dodge, Michael. "The US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015: Moving US Space Activities Forward." The Air and Space Lawyer 29.3 (2016): 4.

Ferreira-Snyman, Anel. "Legal challenges relating to the commercial use of outer space, with specific reference to space tourism." PER: Potchefstroomse Elektroniese Regsblad 17.1 (2014): 1-52.

Freeland, Steven. "Outer space, technology and warfare." Pandora's Box2014 (2014): 7.

Goehlich, Robert A. "Space Tourism: Hurdles and Hopes." International Journal of Aviation Systems, Operations and Training (IJASOT) 1.1 (2014): 17-34.

Langston, Sara, and Sarah Jane Pell. "What is in a name? Perceived identity, classification, philosophy, and implied duty of the ‘astronaut’." Acta Astronautica 115 (2015): 185-194.

Mani, Tanvi. "The Applicability of the Norms of Emergency Rescue of Astronauts to Space Tourists." King's Student L. Rev. 7 (2016): 28.

Upadhyay, Ayushi. "Development of Space Tourism and Legal Aspects." Imperial Journal of Interdisciplinary Research 2.9 (2016).

Freeland, Steven, Fly Me To The Moon: How Will International Law Cope With Commercial Space Tourism? (2017)

Von der Dunk, Frans G., Space Tourism, Private Spaceflight And The Law: Key Aspects (2017)

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