The space race that began between the U.S. and the Soviet Union after the end of World War II was a scary time for many people. But in a way, the fact that tensions on the ground between the two spacefaring nations never turned from cold to hot may have set a precedent for how countries used space: peacefully.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 currently governs all activities in space. But for all its strengths, the treaty leaves a lot of wiggle room within which international conflict – potentially military conflict – could break out, write Michelle L.D. Hanlon and Greg Autry, two experts in space law and policy. This is why it was a big deal when, on Nov. 1, 2021, the United Nations voted to start the process of updating the laws governing space.

And not a moment too soon. Two weeks later, Russia tested a new anti-satellite missile, destroying one of its old satellites and creating a dangerous cloud of debris. It was a reminder that peace in orbit is tenuous, illustrating why the world needs new space law, the scholars explain.

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And one last note today: We’re pleased to announce that we are launching an ambitious diversity initiative to ensure experts in the American media look more like the American population. The plan is supported by 41 of our member colleges and universities, as well as the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Lumina Foundation. We’ll be letting you know more about this in the coming months, but you can download the press release to learn more.

Daniel Merino

Assistant Science Editor & Co-Host of The Conversation Weekly Podcast

The International Space Station is a great example of how space has, for the most part, been a peaceful and collaborative international arena. NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center/Flickr

Space law hasn’t been changed since 1967 – but the UN aims to update laws and keep space peaceful

Michelle L.D. Hanlon, University of Mississippi; Greg Autry, Arizona State University

Human activities in space today are far more numerous and complicated compared with 1967. Two experts explain the need for better laws to keep space peaceful.

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