Ethical Issues With Space Privatization

Aisulu Imanmadi

November 29, 2022

Scientific inquisitiveness, inventions, environmental investigation, resource exploitation, space tourism, and geostrategic considerations all promote space exploration. Thus, it is not surprising that the space exploration industry has progressively been shifted to private companies since the 1990s (Toor, 2022). While proponents contend that commercial stations can be more expansive, cheaper, and faster than government space organizations, critics of private enterprises point out some risks including lack of accountability, a loss of democratic voice, violation of labor rights, environmental, and ethical concerns. 

  Space ethics is a relatively new area of research. According to Simberg (2017), a few thinkers and scientists started to ponder what it meant for mankind to “escape from the confinement of the globe” after the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik in 1957 and the widespread publication of photos of the Earth as seen from space in the 1960s. In the past few years, companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic have taken giant strides to get cargo and astronauts to and from the ISS on their own rockets (Stevens, 2021). The private sector of the US aerospace industry has proven to be very capable, both technically and financially, of doing some of these activities themselves. 

Questions about the commercialization of planetary exploration are being brought up by the rapidly growing commercial space industry. Privatization generally can be a nightmare since it transfers accountability from a collective good to a private enterprise where it belongs. Rich people seeking to further their interests will govern space as the private sector increasingly joins the space race. Praff (2021) states that although space represents a significant portion of the global economy, it will largely remain out of reach of the government and rather in the hands of a small group of affluent individuals. Thus, the extension of private dominance in the space sphere turns into a complicated challenge to its ethicality. 

Another large ethical issue is with the safety of astronauts, who have a legal right to a safe existence in outer space. State space programs face unsuccessful launches and loss of human life. According to Gbenga Oduntan (2016), a reader in International Commercial Law, University of Kent, “Government space programs like NASA and the European Space Agency are certainly not immune from catastrophic accidents. If NASA was a car driver, its license likely would have been revoked on account of the number of tragic explosions. In five of the worst NASA accidents since 1967, 17 brave astronauts have lost their lives…”. A private corporation’s involvement in the death of a NASA space explorer might have even far-reaching effects on both NASA and the company concerned as it’s vague whether the laws protecting rights for safety expands to private astronauts as well. The policies that the private organization practices might be regarded as highly dangerous for workers, however, the government would not be able to monitor the possibility of such conditions.  

To conclude, the private sector, undoubtedly, plays a significant role in the acceleration of space investigation. However, as humanity is at the beginning of the true space ages, a wide array of ethical issues which involve human safety issues, the growth of the power of a privileged class over the space field, and integrity practices should be thoroughly explored and addressed. 

Reference list

  1. Oduntan, G. (2016, September 12). SpaceX shows why we must slow down private space exploration until we rewrite law. The Conversation.

  1. Pfaff, D. (2021, December 23). Spacing out& Will we allow privatization of space to eclipse NASA and NRO? The hill.

  1. Simberg, R. (2017). The surprisingly long history of private space exploration. Reason
  1. Stevens, A. (2021, December 21). SpaceX vs. Blue Origin vs. Virgin Galactic: What’s the difference? TechTarget.

  1. Toor, A.K. (2022, April 29). The privatization of the space industry is negatively affecting the environment. Scot Scoop News.