Treating Outer Space Like a Place: A Case for Rejecting Other Domain Analogies

Elizabeth Mendenhall
  • Astropolitics, June 2018, Taylor & Francis
  • DOI: 10.1080/14777622.2018.1484650

Treating Outer Space Like a Place: A Case for Rejecting Other Domain Analogies

What is it about?

The creation and augmentation of the outer space governance regime during the twentieth century was guided by the use of analogies with other planetary domains. These analogies compare the “target” domain of outer space with various “source” domains, especially airspace, the seabed, the high seas, and Antarctica. These analogies, highlighted at different times to provide guidance on the regulation of existing and emerging space activities, shaped the fundamental principles and rules of the Outer Space Treaty. A survey of contemporary literature demonstrates that analogies continue to be used to structure thinking about outer space activities. This paper argues that such analogies are a misleading foundation for constructing a governance regime in outer space. They overlook essential and distinct features of outer space, and misguide the decisions of policymakers by influencing interest formation and problem definition. Six major features of the outer space environment are concealed by other-domain analogies, which helps explain why the use of analogies reduces the chances for effective governance. Scientific activity since the advent of the Space Age makes possible an alternative, non-analogic representation of outer space as a place, which has important implications for space governance.

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