In the year 2020, when the world was grappling with the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic, Energia space corporation, a company in Russia, announced out of the blue that it is planning to take its first tourist on a spacewalk in 2023. To accomplish its aim, the company had inked an indenture with an American company, Space Adventures.
Though the idea is commendable, many legal hurdles need to be sorted out to make space tourism a booming industry. Many treaties deal with space activities and the role and liability of the state in the space activities carried out on their territories. But none of the treaties was signed with the idea in mind to promote space tourism. Thus, there is an urgent need to draft a new treaty to regulate the space tourism industry.
In general, in business, whether online or offline, there is a rule that lays down that the producer/product seller /service provider has the responsibility to make sure that goods/services which are sold to the consumer are not harmful to the life/interest of the consumer. In case of any damage or legal injury, the consumer has the legal right to sue the seller for damages in a court of law. In these cases, the jurisdiction is well defined in the national and international treaties. However, the same is not the case with space tourism. There is no treaty to redress the cause of the space tourist in case he suffers an injury during the trip. One of the articles of the Outer Space treaty, 1967, has a provision that says that the launching state will be responsible for the damage caused due to the activities carried out in space. As per this provision, the state is liable for the acts carried out by its agencies or private agencies. The question arises: how can a state be made liable for the wrongful acts committed by private persons?
The second issue is regarding the methodology to be used to calculate the compensation to be paid to the space tourist who might suffer an injury. There is a possibility that a space rocket might get crashed, and as a result of it, the tourist dies. Now, the problem is whether the government or the insurance company should pay compensation to the family members of the victim or not. The insurance company or the government may invoke the defenses of Volenti non-fit injuria or the inevitable accident to do away with the duty to pay compensation. Let us assume that it is agreed that the compensation would be paid to the victims or their family members. The calculation of compensation is very challenging here. Many questions will arise, whether the person suffered an injury due to any act or omission on the part of the private company or there was a technical issue that was inevitable to prevent. In the absence of a well-defined law, some judges might decide to pay compensation based on the rules of a motor vehicle accident or consumer-seller relationship. There are no uniform criteria that can aid to reach a desirable compensation. . All this will result in a lengthy litigation process.
The plan of space tourism says that all people who are interested in exploring space are welcome to book their tickets to space. The question is not clear whether all people here mean an old person who is suffering from diseases or a ten-year-old child wanting to see the blue planet. There is a need to develop physical criteria to make sure that the person who boards the space shuttle is healthy and mentally sound.
Space tourism also poses a grave environmental challenge to mankind. The amount of pollution emitted from the launching of space shuttles or rockets is enormous. There is an apprehension that if space tourism becomes a full-fledged economic sector, then the launching of spacecraft will manifold. Consequently, the amount of pollution will rise and the amount of debris in the space will also reach a dangerous level. This will lead to the rise of global warming and the harmful effects of it will be borne by the poor people who have no stake in the development of space tourism.
Thus, we can conclude that space tourism is at a nascent stage and many challenges need to be solved before flowering the space tourism industry. The governments of all nations must form a treaty to regulate the activities of space tourism. The vicarious liability of the state concerning the harm caused by the activities of private individuals must be done away with. A provision for the insurance of the persons who decide to take a trip to space orbit must also be introduced. Efforts should also be made that the benefits of the space tourism industry percolate to the most vulnerable and poor peoples of the world.