Do Astronauts Have Rights While in Space?2 min read

The fascinating worlds of science and exploration always seem to leave legal challenges and expansions in their wake. As we reach out to the stars, space travelers must begin to wonder what their rights are: as people, as workers and as citizens of the cosmos instead of nations on one planet.

One particularly fascinating aspect of this expansion is that it falls on us, the voters and citizens of the various nations, to determine what rights go with us. Laws already exist for unclaimed or uncharted waters, but do they really apply to space? Is one nation’s station sovereign space? What about the International Space Station with its multinational complement?

Existing space laws already tackle the basics of human rights in space. The UN and various international organizations have chartered documents including the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Moon Agreement of 1984. Nations that have signed on to these organizations, which include most space-faring countries, agree to lend aid to any astronauts in distress. Unfortunately, the finer points of law are still vague and generally left to individual nations.

Labor laws are a major right of contention. Most science-fiction fans are well aware of the concept of mining prisons and slaves. Few relish this being the norm as space exploration grows. The rights of workers are entrenched in American society and culture, following its own history and abolishment of slavery, but not all nations share this view. Rights may very well depend on who owns the mines or other claims, and who is strong enough to claim the land and enforce those rights.

Similarly, what of workers’ compensation for those taming the final frontier? Construction sites have injuries, and it’s practically unimaginable that the work of building colonies won’t share similar risks. Will there be a digital database for complaints? Internet connections between worlds? Shared satellite communications? This type of infrastructure is critical to ensure workers are treated fairly in space as they are on the homeworld.

In America, we have a very clear set of rights that we afford all people. The Constitution notes “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed … with certain unalienable Rights.” Perhaps the founders didn’t envision that unalienable could someday refer to aliens from other worlds.

Or perhaps they did. The Constitution is a great and worthy document, and as we hammer out laws for space mining and other considerations, we hope the truths that are self-evident will remain a core principle of interstellar law as these laws develop beyond basic human rights and into the realm of occupational safety and hazard compensation.


Avery Phillips is a freelance human based out of the beautiful Treasure Valley. She loves all things nature, especially humans, and was driven to pursue an Anthropology degree due to her childhood love of Indiana Jones and Laura Croft. Now she lovingly writes about all things great and small.

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