In the future a major problem arose: a habit spread among the astronauts to make political statements upon landing on a new celestial body, often the statements were unpleasant to their government. This happened not only with astronauts from one country but with several countries.

What legal measures can the government undertake so to prevent this from happening?

Obviously, the governments could make a provision in the contract that stipulates the astronauts will not make such statements. If they do, the suffer some penalty, such as lower pay. However, this may not stop people from using such opportunities, especially after they risked their lives.

And more importantly, such behavior may be encouraged by the foreign powers and/or media. As an example, a Chinese or Iranian astronauts making statements against the regimes in their countries or an American astronaut criticizing a newly planned war etc, which is welcomed by other countries.

  • $\begingroup$ I would bet astronauts are already being screened prior to being selected; there are extensive background checks (and in many cases, they come from the armed forces, which are sheldom against the government). A candidate likely to be to outspoken against the government would simply be filtered out. And the inverse should also be true, a political activist opposed to the government rarely will spend years and years of hard training to get to work in a government program... $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    May 8, 2015 at 8:54
  • $\begingroup$ And of course, the implicit risk of being sidelined for future missions is their statements are not "right" is a powerful leverage against people with such investments in the career. $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    May 8, 2015 at 8:56
  • $\begingroup$ surely the same way they stop astronauts from saying "holy cow - is that a little green guy over there" : heavy editing of all broadcasts. $\endgroup$
    – gbjbaanb
    Aug 5, 2018 at 15:05

4 Answers 4


Based on the fact that a habit spread among the astronauts to make political statements upon landing on a new celestial body, often the statements not pleasant to their government... (One way this could happen might be if a large fraction of the astronaut corps internationally move from being employed by a government agency, to being employed by private corporations.)

Basically, I don't think you can actually prevent astronauts from making such statements. At least not directly. (And no, legalese do not prevent bad things; it provides for a hopefully reasonably standardized means of reprimanding the individual after they have done something the society they live in deems inappropriate. Also, what you are proposing sounds akin to limiting free speech, which most democratic societies should be wary of doing through general, legal means.)

You say "upon landing on a new celestial body", which implies they are quite some distance away; absent a FTL communications system (which you do not specify, so I assume that you do not want) much too far away for a two-way communications link. In such a communications environment, transmissions are likely to be batched up and relayed when appropriate. Compare the communications system shown in the movies based on Clarke's books, for example.

There is the possibility that you have enough processing power to run speech-to-text and text (or speech directly) analysis on the results, before transmitting back to Earth. In such a case, if you are able to devise clever enough algorithms to detect such inappropriate statements, the system could theoretically refuse to transmit those over the air. But that comes with a host of problems, not the least of which is false matches. You do not want a genuine problem report to be mistaken for an inappropriate political statement and transmission of it rejected, and if the astronauts are somehow informed of the rejection and want to make such a statement badly enough, they could game the system.

However, the fact that transmissions are batched up allows for another possibility. If you are willing to deny the public at large (or at least, those with large enough antennas and sensitive enough receivers) the ability to listen in, you can have someone back home pre-screen everything and only release to the public what is deemed "appropriate", for some definition thereof. If the radio communications link is encrypted on the air, that effectively means that while the astronauts can still say whatever they want and have it transmitted, only a few people at their mission control or communications center will know exactly what was said before it is cleared for public release.

Maybe that would be good enough for the purposes of each respective government?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You can't stop the signal, Mal. $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    May 8, 2015 at 14:48

The same way the issue is dealt currently? Just add a "processing delay" in the loop and censor out anything you don't like. You can even have the astronauts submit and pre-record their speech while still in the ground and use the pre-recorded speech as audio. In some cases it might be better to pre-record the speech in space just before the landing, so that it can be adjusted to reflect important current events.

Astronauts are actually pre-screened pretty thoroughly. That does include potentially problematic political opinions. And they are specifically chosen and trained to be the kind of boring people who do their job without potentially conflicting other priorities. There might be some slip ups, but I find it hard to imagine that astronauts as a group got in the habit of playing politics while working. So you'll need some pretty convincing back-story to sell that idea.


Copy the system in use today.

All 12 of the Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon were career members of the US Government. 11 were military officers, and 1 was US Geological Survey. The US Space program has continued in this vein, and most other nations have as well.

This serves as both a screening process, and as leverage.

Members of the US military are forbidden from having making overt political statements in their official capacity. If they do make political statements, they can be fired. The Apollo astronauts were in their late 30s and early 40s, meaning that they had years of indoctrination, as well as years of proven "good behavior." They also had a significant investment: if they were fired (other than honorable discharge) they lose their military / government pension - this is a BIG financial incentive.

As long as your space programs are government run, there is no issue. If the programs are private, things are more difficult, but potential loss of lucrative government contracts could provide an incentive for private space programs to police their own.


This depends on the laws restricting this government and whether the government has powers that allow it to freely change the law.

If making statements that did not cohere with the reigning political ideology classed as treachery, punishments with which the astronaut could legally be threatened might include demotion or the loss of her job, imprisonment, torture, execution or the similar mistreatment of friends or family.

The efficacy of these legal threats in preventing undesirable proclamations would also depend on whether the astronaut's trip came with a return ticket. Will she ever need to go back to Earth and face the consequences? And does she have friends or family she values highly enough to overcome her political motivations?

By screening out applicants with tendencies towards contrarian thinking, non-empathic personality traits or weak social roots on Earth, you could dramatically reduce the possibility of your astronaut departing from the dominant political narrative when taking their first steps on a new world.

If stronger coercive methods were legal for your government they might also make use of torture and propaganda techniques to decrease the likelihood of the astronaut even thinking contrarian thoughts. For fictional references see the Two Minute Hate in Nineteen Eighty-Four or Alex's indoctrination in A Clockwork Orange (I'll sidestep the controversy of mentioning real-world examples here).

A technologically advanced society could also conceivably intercept or inhibit the formation of certain thoughts (or their expression in speech) through cybernetic or pharmaceutical interventions.

As explained in Michael Kjörling's answer, the government could and likely would also ensure that the astronaut's means of transmitting messages back home used encryption rendering transmissions unreadable for anyone without the necessary decryption algorithm. The government could then process and edit these transmissions before making them available to the general public. If real-time transmission to the public were necessary then some sort of word filter mesh (perhaps used in conjunction with cybernetics or a simple heart-rate monitor to judge the astronaut's state of mind) could be used to initiate temporary disruptions or scrambling of transmissions, to be replaced later with studio- or computer-generated sound or footage.

Threats in terms of delivering bodily harm directly to the astronaut could also be accomplished via remote controlled systems (here I'm assuming the astronaut has gotten to her current location in a giant, computer-controlled machine the government built). For instance, home base might threaten to open the airlock if the astronaut fails to read from the official script, or assign a weaponized robot to watch her every move.

Depending how theoretical or futuristic you're willing to go the possibilities are endless. The government might sidestep the issue entirely by having the entire landing ceremony carried out by an android.


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