Societal Issues

Environmental Considerations In The Age Of Space Exploration: The Conservation And Protection Of Non-Earth Environments

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
June 14, 2023
Filed under , , , , ,
Environmental Considerations In The Age Of Space Exploration: The Conservation And Protection Of Non-Earth Environments
Jettison bag under the Apollo 11 Descent Stage, south footpad, bent probe, strut supports. 20 July 1969. (Source NASA AS11-40-5892).

This document is an abbreviated version of the law review, led by Alexander Q. Gilbert, entitled: “Major Federal Actions Significantly Affecting the Quality of the Space Environment: Applying NEPA to Federal and Federally Authorized Outer Space Activities.”

Here, we discuss the future of the space environment, and how it is increasingly becoming a human environment with regard to continued robotic and human presence in orbit, planned and proposed robotic and human presence on bodies such as the Moon and Mars, planned space mining projects, the increase use of low-Earth orbit for communications satellites, and other human uses of space.

As such, we must evaluate and protect these environments just as we do on Earth. In order to prioritize mitigating threat of contamination, avoiding conflict, and promoting sustainability in space, all to ensure that actors maintain equal and safe access to space, we propose applying the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, to space missions.

We put forward three examples of environmental best practices for those involved in space missions to consider: adopting precautionary and communicative structure to before, during, and after missions taking place off-world, environmental impact statements, and transparency in tools that may impact the environment (including radioisotope power sources, plans in case of vehicle loss or loss of trajectory, and others).

For additional discussion related to potential space applications of NEPA, NEPA’s statutory text, and NEPA’s relation to space law and judicial precedent for space, we recommend reading the full law review.

Monica R. Vidaurri, Alexander Q. Gilbert

Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM) Cite as: arXiv:2306.05594 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:2306.05594v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)
Focus to learn more Journal reference: ENVIRONS 2019 44:2 pp 233-272
Submission history From: Monica Vidaurri [v1] Thu, 8 Jun 2023 23:47:12 UTC (22 KB)
Astrobiology, Planetary Protection

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) πŸ––πŸ»