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Extraterrestrial Ethics
Andy Miah   Jan 29, 2010   h+ Magazine  

Are there no ethical principles we can share to help guide our colonization of outer space? If not, then how do we deal with some of the fundamental questions that govern such work? For instance, what obligations do we owe to the various life forms we send there, or those we might discover? Can we develop a more considerate approach to colonizing outer space than we were able to achieve for various sectors of Earth?

2009 was a great year for space exploration! The 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing marked a new era for our future in space. Key landmarks include the European Space Agency’s appointment of its first European Commander to the International Space Station. In October, the 60th International Astronautical Congress took place in South Korea. Then there were continuing attempts from South Korea to launch its first rocket in the aftermath of the ongoing controversy about North Korea’s testing of rocket technology in outer space. NASA even managed to identify water on the moon.

In a time of potentially catastrophic climate change, our need to consider the exploration of outer space is greater than ever. This need is made visible by the rise of various networks that are contributing to the establishment of governmental policies that will oversee our move into outer space, either as visitors or inhabitants. The importance of ethical debate within such conversations is signaled by the work of such organizations as UNESCO, which held its first congress on the ethics of outer space in 2004.

Applying ethical guidelines that will accommodate the wide and diverse interests of a global community presents considerable challenges and inhibits the willingness of space agencies to commit wholeheartedly to any such implementation. After all, haven’t societies been trying to find common ground on such values for at least half a century?

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Professor Andy Miah, PhD (@andymiah), is Chair in Science Communication & Digital Media, in the School of Environment & Life Sciences, University of Salford, Manchester. He is also Global Director for the Centre for Policy and Emerging Technologies, Fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, USA and Fellow at FACT, the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, UK. He is currently part of a European Commission project called Digital Futures 2050 and of the Ministerial Advisory Group on Digital Participation in the Scottish Government.

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