Thursday, July 17, 2008

The World Heritage Convention and sites in outer space

The Australian Space Science Conference is coming up later in the year, and I've submitted the following poster abstract with one of my graduate students:

Space heritage: the application of the World Heritage Convention to sites in Outer Space

Mr Nigel Springbett-Bruer and Dr Alice Gorman
Flinders University


Since 1957, space enterprises have led to the creation of places and objects that have heritage value in Earth orbit, on the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies, and in interplanetary space. Some, like the 1969 Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon, and Vanguard 1, the oldest surviving satellite in Earth orbit, might be argued to have heritage value on a global level. However, there are at present no legal or other instruments that provide heritage protection to sites such as these.

Currently, the World Heritage Convention (WHC) can only be applied to immovable places and objects in terrestrial contexts, and the application of national heritage legislation to outer space is problematic as it can be interpreted as tantamount to making a territorial claim in contravention of the Outer Space Treaty. This poster reports on a study investigating the status of the World Heritage Convention and the Outer Space Treaty as customary international law, as determined by the number of signatory states and the extent to which they are observed by the international community. We argue that the WHC and relevant provisions of the Outer Space Treaty have achieved such a status, and hence provide an avenue for the WHC to be applied to heritage in outer space and on other celestial bodies. While there are many other conceptual difficulties in applying the WHC to space, this is a starting point for the creation of an internationally agreed framework for the recognition and management of globally significant heritage sites in outer space.


Part of the argument is that the intersection of the Outer Space Treaty and the World Heritage Convention lies in the idea of space as a global commons. As is always the case with these things the bones are there and we have much thinking and research yet to do to flesh it out properly - but I'm excited, with Nigel's help, to be taking this tiny step into the quagmire of space law.

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