We've done it. We've finally devised the technology that will allow us to safely and efficiently leave Earth behind and explore our corner of the galaxy. We're still working on the intergalactic systems, but we've come across a hiccup in our plans to spread humanity away from our vulnerable home world: ourselves.

Before launching the first colonization mission, the Central Space Authority, comprised of representatives of every space-faring nation on Earth, wants to lay down a few laws to govern mankind's impact on the worlds he encounters.

A few concerns they want to address can be found here, namely the following:

  • Balancing the rights of man with the rights of the new world
  • Balancing the rights of man with the rights of flora/fauna of the new world
  • Balancing the needs of man with the rights of the new world (aka, terraforming)

The CSA doesn't want to harm the universe as a whole or restrict man to the observation of Earth's immediate neighbors, but neither do they want to curtail man's ambition to explore the stars or ensure his species' survival.

Which single principle should the CSA focus on above all others for defining initial laws to protect both mankind and the universe without drastically limiting the ability of man to leave Earth?

Please support your decision with a brief rationale.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ what do you mean by rights of the new world? Does a rock have rights? Do trees have rights or might we just want to avoid wiping out native flora/fauna for pragmatic reasons? $\endgroup$
    – Murphy
    Jul 22, 2015 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Murphy See the link in my question. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Jul 22, 2015 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ "We've done it." is probably an overstatement, it took us 2 world wars and some armed conflicts just to tickle Earth within a century. If you see from the Hubble telescope the Earth looks nothing like the diaper when infant Loki is playing instead you will see miracle that won't last unless we do something. The universe is big is also an understatement we are simply too arrogant thinking we might pollute it, unless man can put greed back into the Pandora box nature will alway take heavy tolls. Humanity's motto: No action talks only! $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Jul 23, 2015 at 13:08

4 Answers 4


I think the simplest and only really satisfactory legal structure here is just to forbid colonization or exploitation, in any form, of any planet that harbors life, in any form.

Given an inch, humans will take a mile. Given a temporary lease on a small island, they'll take the whole continent. Given a beautiful wooded mountain range punctuated with crystal-clear streams and lakes, they'll knock it down, drain it, fill in in, pave it flat, and put a warehouse-style hardware store at every crossroads. The first human settler on any world is the narrow end of a wedge that will eventually split its distinctive and irreplaceable ecology into a thousand fragments, lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry, Clementine.

Based on what we've seen in our own star system, and on what we know about others, there will likely be several lifeless, uninhabited worlds out there for every one that bears life. By the time we have the ability to cross the vast and unforgiving gulfs of interstellar space, we'll have ample technology to effectively terraform at least some of those dead worlds to our liking, with none of (or at least fewer of) the pesky moral ramifications.

  • $\begingroup$ What about microbial life? A whole planet, with nothing but lichen-covered rocks and algae-filled oceans? $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2015 at 1:31
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ When the algae-filled ocean washes over those lichen-covered rocks, it all comes together to make a slippery slope. : ) $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2015 at 1:49

For me it depends on the level of life on the new planet. I think a lot of consideration would have to go into each case, preparing outside of their atmosphere a plan of action. This goes for considering rights but also how we would integrate at all in a totally alien environment.

If the life is microbial, I don't think the rights of the flowers/fauna have to be considered too in depth. Although they might be shown to us if we march right in there.

If it's non-intelligent life sort of like lizards/mammals/fish I think a reasonable examining period would have to be undertaken to work out if it would be beneficial or even viable for us to enter into their food chains and distrupt their ecosystem. Either side of us could wipe each other out after all.

If it's intelligent life at our level is the biggest consideration. I don't think I could list all the questions we'd have to ask ourselves about how it would work.

If it's more intelligent than us then we might end up having no rights at all!


Protecting Mankind: Sovereignty

The CSA will likely dictate the territorial rights of different individuals and their countries. Most likely, this will include an extension of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which was eventually ratified by 62 countries stating all bodies are "...not subject to national appropriation by claim of sover­eignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."

Protecting Mankind: Safety

International safety standards for space travel might vary for each country, but I would expect them to be of the highest calibre, especially since the "space race" has calmed down a bit.

Safety of multiple operators in space has also been discussed.

One mechanism that works well is the dissemination of information between operators of peaceful, nuclear power. In my experience, there has been an enormous amount of rapid, international collaboration on design, safety, and issues in recent years. I would like this to apply to international space-faring nations.

Protecting Other Bodies: SEA & EIA / PCR

One progressive and successfully implemented strategy is to conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) before planning initiatives on extra-terrestrial places, and a follow-up Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before conducting the initiatives. The first identifies what studies should be conducted along the way, and the second is the studies. Both bring in expertise from a wide range of disciplines every step of the way and either avoid impact, or require offsets and mitigation to the impact. This is a very EU/UN procedure, btw.

A Preliminary Cultural Review (PCR) is a system we undertook when working as a planner in Abu Dhabi (and I'm sure is applied elsewhere). This would work if there's life on other bodies. It entails a detailed review of paleontological, archaeological resources as well as any existing cultural communities or resources. It may restrict development, guide development to minimize impact, or make other recommendations to mitigate against the impacts of our space farers on other communities and cultural resources (if they exist).

We already have strong protocol for human safety in space, but we don't have the same for our impact on the environment, geological systems, or (if there are aliens) cultural systems yet. But the language exists.


Two questions here:

What are the safety protocols for interacting with an ecosystem?

That's for the benefit of the explorers and the rest of mankind. We don't want alien diseases running rampant through the galaxy, invasive species imported to another world, and so on. We don't want imported species to turn the target world into turmoil, either, if only because it reduces the potential value of the world.

What are the rights of nonsentient alien species?

I'm assuming rights for sentients go without saying. But there is a slippery slope. How do you determine if those social, inquisitive swimmers without hands or arms are sentient? What about those little furry bipeds who never quite dot their i's and cross their t's? Do you err on the side of caution? How long do you investigate the world?

Assuming that you have convinced yourself (and any interfering busybodies) that there are no sentients, what then? I think that the life of (any) sentient outweighs the life of (any) non-sentient. If you're starving, it is legitimate to eat the last bald eagle -- if it was really the last, the species was doomed anyway.

Does the pursuit of profit of (any) sentient outweigh the life of (any) non-sentient? I don't think so, at least on Earth. But that's because Earth is the home of mankind, and tinkering with the ecosystem for fun and profit is a bad idea. An alien world, truly without a sentient species?

Fortunately, those requirements go hand in hand.

  • You don't want to wreck the ecosystem, or import dangerous diseases, parasites, or vermin.
  • You want to be really sure that none of the native species is sentient, or even approaching sentience.

Careful exploration under biological safety protocols, until you're sure how the world works and how to use the world without destroying it. By then, you have an immigrant population which has learned to fit in on the long term.


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