It seems lawyers have extended their empire far beyond earth’s bounds.
There is an area of law, now, called Space Law: initialised by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, a set of guidelines for using outer space with consideration and respect.
Perhaps the easiest way to remember the main aspects of space law is to ask yourself: what would Darth Vader do? And then assume there is a law to prevent him.
Thus, where Darth would corner the market in scientific advances, space law says all countries are welcome up there, where every man is equal and every man co-operates. No-one can claim sovereignty there (despite the planting of a very definite flag featuring stars and stripes) by any means, including occupation.
And while Darth favours war as the primary means of communicating with his fellow galactic residents, space law says peace should be assumed. The United Nations and International Law hold sway way up there, beyond our paper-thin atmosphere.
The Death Star is ruled out fairly swiftly. Article IV states there should be no weapons of mass destruction sent into orbit.
Astronauts, it states, are envoys of mankind. If there is an accident, everyone, everywhere should give them all possible assistance. Storm troopers or no storm troopers.
And then we get into the murky stuff. States who are party to the treaty are responsible for the missions they send into space: and will be held internationally liable for damage caused to other state’s kit.
So if Skywalker rear-ends the Death Star he had better be very sure he has legal grounds to do so: or the Rebel Alliance could face a very large bill indeed. It is conceivable that this indeed happened, and that is how the second Death Star was funded.
Yada yada yada. The small print talks about reciprocity, of sufficient advance notice of visits so that everyone can be consulted, risks assessed, feathers smoothed.
There have been many international treaties since. The 1968 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts; The 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects; the gripping 1975 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space; and The 1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.
Despite all that red tape, international lawyers have found it almost impossible to arrive at a definition of ‘outer space’. Which could prove awkward when that Klingon ship clips the Lockheed U2 15 miles above the earth’s surface.
Space lawyers estimate the cut-off point is generally thought to be about 62 miles above the earth’s surface, at the point where orbit becomes possible.
But, like standing the other side of a fence on a public footpath during a pop festival, there is still a bona fide no-strings-attached way to observe space without the law men getting you.
Stand on the earth’s surface: and wonder.
I was busy staring at fairy tales this evening, willing one of them to catch my heart and run away with it. I was being good, avoiding my Russian inclinations and sidestepping Grimm, and wading through Indian ones which were in equal parts dashing, charming and woefully complex.
We had read the children their stories and settled them in bed when a sergeant-major voice declared with a certain flourish: “Right. Everyone up to Felix’s room NOW, please. No excuses. You can’t miss this.”
When my husband gets a bee in his bonnet it is best to sigh resignedly and leave what you are doing. I left the laptop and trudged up those stairs I had just descended. What would it be: an unusual insect in a crevice? A bird’s eye view of some classic car in the car park? A landmark piece of creativity by my son?
No: it was what was in the sky.
Felix has an attic window with a dream skyscape view. And tonight was a Luke Skywalker moment. A razor-sharp scythe of a moon flanked by two silvery planets: Mars, a reddish tinge to its lustre; and Jupiter, a great jewel in the inkiest of black skies.
It is impossible to capture, in word or on camera, the pristine beauty of this piece of the universe. There was something about the arrangement of the three great bodies; the mediaeval way in which the moon, though insignificant in the context of the great reaches of outer space, was large to us, whose seas it moves from day-to-day. And the utter brilliance of the fifth rock from the sun, the largest planet in the universe, a gas giant rendered miniature by the twin miracles of scale and perspective.
And so the fairy tale will wait another day. Tonight we marvelled in a piece of unparalleled beauty, and rejoiced that standing on the surface of this bluest third rock, we can gaze: unfettered by space law.