What do you want to be when you grow up? Historically, one of the most popular responses to the previous question has been astronaut. With the ending of the Space Shuttle program, this dream seemed to be more unattainable than ever. Fear not, for “when one door closes, another opens,” enter: Space Tourism.

While you may not become exactly the type of astronaut you might have envisioned, going through NASA training and making a career out of space exploration, space tourism is a new industry that will allow the everyday citizen to experience the wonders of space, if only for a few minutes. Companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, headed by Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, respectively, are well on their way to making dreams become reality through their technologically advanced, reusable spaceships. These two companies will allow ordinary citizens to experience space by flying on one of their commercial “spaceships.” As the spaceship coasts into space, passengers will leave their seats and experience true, unencumbered weightlessness. The ship has large windows so that passengers will have the best possible view of Earth as well as the dark abyss that is space. After several minutes of experiencing space, passengers will return to their seats to prepare for re-entry.

While the technology is seemingly there, with successful test flights being completed as recently as October 5th of this year, the legal landscape of space tourism is lightyears behind. Well, maybe not lightyears, but there are some pressing legal implications within this blossoming industry. The current legal regime for space travel, namely the Outer Space Treaty (“OST”), was not designed to address the commercial activity of space tourism. It is therefore necessary to assess the applicability of the current legal framework to this new commercial venture. Given the distinction in fundamental legal principles between air law and international law of outer space, it is important to determine what laws apply where. Additionally, the legal status of a space tourist must be determined, given that current international space law does not reference “tourists.” Are they astronauts, as referred to in the OST, or are they tourists? Rules must be established related to liability for death/damages. The current liability regime does not provide reasonable recourse and accountability measures for private parties in outer space. Also, the increased travel to space will create debris and the potential for increased pollution, as flights to space become more prevalent, so laws will need to be created to regulate these issues as well.

In the coming years, space tourism visionaries like Bezos and Branson believe that taking a quick flight to space will be just as common as a commercial flight from New York to Atlanta. Their technology is well on the way to making space travel for the ordinary person a reality, but before that dream is realized, there will be legal implications that must be resolved. For now, sit back and relax, but know, that your dream of becoming an “astronaut” and experiencing space first hand is not as far-fetched a dream as it might once have been perceived.

—Eric Ahlzadeh

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