Taking a Giant Leap for a New Ethics in Outer Space


    Syllabus: GS2/ Government Policies & Interventions, GS3/Technology Missions, Space

    In Context

    • Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s visit to Antarctica marked the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. It also led to the Regulations of the Antarctica region.
    • Likewise, pride and exhilaration over the Chandrayaan-3 achievement must now be followed by a mature policy on the future of India’s earth-borne plans on the moon. 

    Exploration & Regulations of Antarctica

    • Cold War & Antarctic Conference:
      • With the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1958 seeing many players becoming active in Antarctica, and fears of Cold War rivalry taking unexpected turns, United States President convened in 1959 an Antarctic Conference of the 12 countries active in Antarctica during the IGY, to negotiate a treaty. 
      • Argentina proposed that atomic explosions be banned in Antarctica.
    • Research stations & treaty accord:
      • Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States — 12 countries — had established over 55 Antarctic research stations for the IGY. 
      • The countries had to make the Treaty accord full acceptance to two basics:
        • Freedom of scientific research in Antarctica and 
        • The peaceful use of the continent. 
      • An indirect consensus emerged for demilitarisation as the treaty prohibited nuclear testing, military operations, economic exploitation, and further territorial claims in Antarctica. 
      • Today there are 54 parties to the Treaty, with 29 having consultative status.
    • Monitoring on South Pole:
      • Close monitoring systems are in position to regulate the activities of the countries with a presence on Antarctica in order to maintain its ecological integrity. 
    • India on Antarctica:
      • India with its own station on Queen Maud’s Land being one of those 29, that have ‘demonstrated their interest in Antarctica by carrying out substantial scientific activity there’. 
    Chandrayaan-3 Mission
    – Chandrayaan-3 is India’s third moon mission.
    – It was successfully launched onboard a Launch Vehicle Mark-3 (LVM-3) rocket from the second launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota on July 14th, 2023.
    – The Chandrayaan-3 is an interplanetary mission which has three major modules: 
    1. The Propulsion module, 
    2. Lander module, and 
    3. Rover.
    – Chandrayaan-3 will next insert itself into lunar orbit, a move that will kick off the moon-centric phase (Phase 3). 
    The mission will then orbit the moon four times, getting gradually closer to the lunar surface with each subsequent loop.
    1. Thus far, only three countries, the U.S., Russia, and China, have successfully soft-landed on the moon.

    Regulations of Moon, Outer Space Treaties & Moon Agreement

    • About:
      • The Indian space vehicle Chandrayaan 3 recently reached Mars’ South Pole.
      • This achievement must now be followed by a mature policy on the future of India’s earth-borne plans on the moon. 
      • Just as the world’s engagement with Antarctica led to a treaty, so did the Moon Agreement adopted by the General Assembly in 1979.
    • Outer Space Treaties:
      • There are 5 treaties that govern activities in outer space, including the aforementioned Outer Space Treaty. 
      • Three of the remaining treaties deal with the rescue of astronauts, the registration of space objects and liability for damages caused by a space operation. 
      • This leaves us with the final treaty, the Moon Agreement of 1979. 
    • Moon agreement:
      • About:
        • The Moon Agreement is directed towards the use of the Moon and other celestial bodies
        • It declares that these regions of space must only be for peaceful purposes, with no state allowed to establish military bases or place weapons on celestial bodies. 
        • This is an extension of the concept of outer space being reserved for peaceful purposes, which was noted in the Outer Space Treaty. 
      • Resources exploitation & ‘global commons’:
        • The Moon Agreement also speaks to how resources may be exploited from these celestial bodies. 
        • It establishes that the moon and other celestial bodies are ‘the province of all mankind’. 
        • This makes these areas a ‘global commons’
        • Protecting celestial bodies: The Moon Agreement further requires state parties to act on celestial bodies keeping in mind the protection of their environment.
      • India’s position on the Moon Agreement:
        • India is a signatory to the Moon Agreement, yet it has not ratified it. 
    Global Commons
    – Global commons is a legal term used to describe international waters, being areas meant for the greater good of humankind, rather than merely for state appropriation. 
    – This is extended to the natural resources of the moon, which are meant to be extracted with the guidance of an international regime that would have the power to ration these resources to the states on Earth. 


    • India’s role:
      • The Moon Agreement must be taken to its next logical stage. 
      • As an earth-pioneer on the moon, India must, by precept and practice, set the pace for the earth’s agenda on the moon and of the moon’s future as a partner with the earth. 
    • Fundamental Rights & ethics of outer space:
      • India should now take the initiative to craft a declaration of the fundamental rights of outer space. 
      • And thereby inaugurate a new ethics for human activity in outer space, including, very pointedly, the earth’s responsibilities towards outer space debris
      • This new ethic must make the non-militarisation of outer space a non-negotiable covenant. 

    Way Ahead

    • India cannot afford to be among those who may want to scramble for outer space hegemonies over what is not just the common heritage of humankind but that of a larger cosmos.
    • The Outer Space Treaty and Moon Agreement now need aligning not just with the latest advances in space missions but with a moral compass to the stars.
    Daily Mains Question
    [Q] What role can India play in crafting fundamental Rights & ethics of outer space after the Chandrayaan-3 achievement?