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World Space Week Association Podcast – Steven Freeland on Space Law

World Space Week Association Podcast – Steven Freeland on Space Law

Steven Freeland has an impressive list of affiliations and works in a field that needs no introduction, law. Space Law, however is a domain of a more recent development if we take into account that humankind has been practicing law for thousands of years. Steven is sharing with the World Space Week’s audience from his experience as well as his thoughts on space in general.

About Steven Freeland

Steven Freeland is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Western Sydney University, where he was previously the Dean of the School of Law, and Professorial Fellow at Bond University. He also holds Visiting or Adjunct positions at various other Universities/Institutes in Copenhagen, Vienna, Toulouse, Hong Kong, Montreal, Kuala Lumpur and London.

Prior to becoming an academic, he had a 20-year career as an international commercial lawyer and investment banker.

He is a Member of the Australian Space Agency Advisory Board and has been an advisor to the Australian, New Zealand, Norwegian and several other Governments on issues relating to national space legislative frameworks and policy. He has represented the Australian Government at Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) meetings and was appointed in June 2021 by UNCOPUOS as Vice-Chair of a 5-year Working Group looking at issues regarding the exploration, exploitation and utilisation of space resources. 

Steven is also a Director of the International Institute of Space Law.


Transcript of the conversation with Steven Freeland on World Space Week and Space Law

[Haritina Mogoșanu 1:00] Today I am talking to Steven Freeland. Steven Freeland is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Western Sydney University, where he was previously the Dean of the School of Law, and Professorial Fellow at Bond University. He also holds Visiting or Adjunct positions at various other Universities/Institutes in Copenhagen, Vienna, Toulouse, Hong Kong, Montreal, Kuala Lumpur and London. Prior to becoming an academic, he had a 20-year career as an international commercial lawyer and investment banker. He is a Member of the Australian Space Agency Advisory Board and has been an advisor to the Australian, New Zealand, Norwegian and several other Governments on issues relating to national space legislative frameworks and policy. He has represented the Australian Government at Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) meetings and was appointed in June 2021 by UNCOPUOS as Vice-Chair of a 5-year Working Group looking at issues regarding the exploration, exploitation and utilisation of space resources. Steven is also a Director of the International Institute of Space Law.

Steven, thank you for your participation. It’s really awesome to have you here. How do we bridge law and space?

[Steven Freeland 2:38] Oh, hi, Hari, is a pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me. What a great question to start off with. Well, as you know, and as people listening, who have an interest in space would know, spaces is everywhere, it’s ubiquitous. You and I and every person on the planet is touched by space every day, from a functioning viewpoint, from the economy, from infrastructure, from going to work, from doing financial transactions, and managing our farms and transport and all of those. But we’re also touched by space from a cultural perspective, and from a religious perspective. And civil society does so much. So space is everywhere, it’s multifaceted. A day without space, as you know, would be a disaster for local groups, communities around the world. But [space] it’s also highly strategic. It’s also intricately tied up with military, we can’t deny that. And it’s also a massive and growing exponentially economy. So it has so many aspects to it. It’s so important, it touches on everybody’s lives, as I said. And so it’s important and logical and necessary that we have rules of the road. And so we clearly need to have an understanding about the foundational principles about how we go about interacting with “space”, what it means, what its legal characterization is, how we can maximize the benefits that minimize the risks associated with space, how we can do this in a, I’d say in inverted commas cooperative way, but at least in a way that avoids confrontation and conflict, how it allows space to work, how we can maintain its sustainability, and safety and stability, not only for us, but for future generations. All of those things and many more mean that we need to have rules of the road. And we do.

We have a very large and significant body of law that sets the frameworks; really, really important fundamental frameworks, within which all activities in space must be conducted. And as I said, by and large, it’s meant that space is work. But it’s also, of course, an area where the technology races forward. I mean, space is not unique in that, but it’s certainly in an area with space, the technology moves forward so quickly. And so we can do things now that were clearly not in the contemplation of those who were drafting these foundational principles, as important as they are, and as relevant as they are now. But they don’t deal with all of the specifics of the things we can do now. And no doubt, the things we can do in five years, that you and I can’t even contemplate yet. So law, is an incredibly important part.

What does law mean? Law means sort of binding rules, it means rules of the road, in terms of generating responsible behavior, it means allowing us to maximize the benefits, as well as minimizing the risks. And it really means that given that there are so many actors in space, and the countries involved in space, those understandings, those principles, those guidelines, those codes of conduct, all have to be essentially understood on a global basis. So [space] it’s really intricate, you know, it’s highly political, and sensitive and diplomatic. And we’re in interesting geopolitical times. So all of that makes life interesting, and difficult and challenging. But in the end, it’s in all of our interests to have these common understandings, so that we can all essentially operate from the same song sheet. And that’s really what’s important if we all have buy-in on those rules of the road, if we can live with them, if we can respect the fact that others are also operating but living by the same rules, then I think we’ve got a chance of not going the wrong way. So I think law is important. But it’s not the only factor, that there are so many other factors involved.

[Haritina Mogoșanu 7:14] What I love about living in today’s times is that I believe that we’re making our future; there are many things that we haven’t sorted yet. Space, I think, it’s relatively young. Many people ask why we didn’t go back to the moon? It is the other way around.

We just started to understand how to go to the Moon, and why go to the moon? How is this in in your area? How many laws are there already that relate to space? How many people have walked this road before?

[Steven Freeland 7:53] That’s a great question. Well, in terms of numbers of people who’ve been to space, they’re probably I think, somewhere between 600 and 700 people, very few women, I have to say as a proportion of that. So clearly, that has to change, and it is going to change. The vast majority of those people have been, quote unquote, trained professional astronauts, we’ve had over more recent decades, not that sort of person, what we have now, often sometimes, is spaceflight participants. And now of course, then there’s been a lot of hype and press in the recent months about notions of also tourists going to space. So, but the numbers are still modest. And there are some who predict and they’ve been lots of things written even before Sputnik about tens and tens of thousands of people in space, millions of people in space, we are so far away from that. But of course, one can never actually foresee what will happen in decades and centuries to come. But we’re still pretty modest. As you say, I completely agree with you. We’re still really at the beginning of understanding our role in the universe. We’re still pretty modest in those expectations. But there’s a lot of excitement. Going back to the moon, it’s a really interesting thing, because of course, we all remember that time when the Apollo 11 landing and then the moon walk took place. Even if people were not alive at that time, and I’m sure many of your listeners were not actually alive then, but they completely understand the importance of that time and what it meant for humanity. And we were all sitting – I remember I was in primary school, sitting on the school hall and we had this big black and white television, and we’re all sitting in wonder. So going to the moon then was an extraordinary thing. And then, for a whole range of reasons political, economic, cultural, technological, the moon sort of fell off the radar. But now it’s very much sexy again, for geopolitical reasons, because not only one country, but others now have the ability to do things on the moon, because of the notion, perhaps, of exploiting the resources of the moon, water, and then maybe some other things, maintaining human settlements there, and also using it as a test case and a platform for further human exploration. So the moon is very much back in focus. But it’s, you know, we all know about the moon. I’ve had had the honor of having been appointed by the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, as you mentioned, to co chair discussions about possibilities of exploiting resources, not only on the moon, but generally on celestial bodies. And, you know, that’s a pretty important issue to think about. Because when you think about it, every person on this planet has an attachment to the moon, every person on this planet! So we just have to make sure, of course, that as in and when we move forward, and it sounds like to me, humanity has decided we want to do these things, okay, that’s one question, but assuming that’s the case, then whatever we do, whatever we do, will have impacts on every person’s consciousness and lives. And so we really have to think carefully, exactly how that works. And that means getting not only the lawyers and the diplomats in the room, but hearing from and learning from so many other walks of life, civil society, you know, the medical people, the economic people, the cultural people, the scientists, the engineers, and the list goes on, to make sure that whatever we do, we do in a way that is clearly peaceful, in a way that is sustainable, as much as that can be the case. And in a way that actually is for the benefit of humanity on a broad global basis, rather than actually creating greater divides amongst humanity, because I think we all have a responsibility in that regard. But the moon is, as you say, you know, we’re just now learning about the significance of the Moon even more. It’s exciting, but it’s also daunting, and we just have to get it right.

[Haritina Mogoșanu 13:34] One of the reasons we ended up doing this podcast is because we want to make the career path of becoming a space specialist – if you wish, more accessible and, describe it for young people, for any kind of people to understand. And perhaps, when they realize the role that space already plays in their lives – because this is what World Space Week is about, World Space Week is about raising awareness of technologies that we have, that come from space exploration, so when they know about how much space actually is in their lives, then they will understand that it is something that they can do. And it is not very often or in very many countries where people have a very clear path. What I’d like to ask you is about your interest in space, and when did it start? Perhaps then you could tell us what it is exactly that you do? If you maybe can describe a day at work?

[Steven Freeland 14:36] Sure. As long as it’s not too boring for your your listeners. So my interest in space, I mean, who is not interested in space, and that would really be the first question,

[Haritina Mogoșanu 14:46] you will be surprised how many people I heard in the last few years who said “Hari, not everybody’s interested in space”.

[Steven Freeland 14:57] I think it’s interesting because every day you pick up a newspaper, in any country in the world, I generalize slightly, there’s always going to be a story on space. Even if, okay, I accept that maybe not every person on the planet has an interest in space. But more and more we have a consciousness about space: how important it is for us, how it’s a part of our lives. Still we’ve got a long way to go to make sure that people really understand that. But I think, you know, the fact that we’re having these podcasts, the fact that there are so many discussions going on at so many levels of civil society means that more and more people understand the importance of space, even if perhaps, it’s not the first thing that they would want to talk about.

So my own interest, well, you know, it’s pretty straightforward. I have always been interested in space. I was a great Tintin fan when I was young, in fact, I still am a great Tintin fan and, of course, Tintin going to the moon … And, you know, if you even look at that, in a interesting way, Hergé actually foretold some of the technology and there are so many other people who, even before we could do it. Carl Sagan comes to mind, many other people understood what [space] meant, but what it required and the challenges for humanity. So, I’ve had an interest in space, but I’m an international lawyer, by training so I worked as an international lawyer in a global law firm for about eight or nine years. And that took me to live in about three or four different places. Then I went to the dark side, although I did don’t regard to the dark side. In fact, it was gray. I was an investment banker for about 15 years, again, living in many places, understanding, I think, how the world worked, so I understood the law. But of course, understanding the law and understanding politics is different from seeing beings in practice and understanding then the power of corporates and the power of money flows, and the power of innovation and creativity. And so in those roles as a commercial lawyer, but even more as an investment banker, it allowed me to gain an understanding of the way the world works, the way nothing is binary, it’s multifaceted, there are so many issues involved, space is so multifaceted! And then I retired as an investment banker in my early 40s, and went back to university, and did a master’s in part of which I did in the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands. And as part of that I saw a subject, this is in 1998, or nine, subject called Space Law on the curriculum taught by a wonderful man. And I thought, well, this looks interesting, did fell in love with the idea of law in space, came back to Australia for personal reasons, having lived overseas for most of my life, and thought I would become an academic, joined the university, but brought with me a love for international law. And as part of that International Space Law, I started teaching that and it grew from there. But I’m an international lawyer, I do a lot of work in international environmental law, I do a lot of work in international criminal law, although now, the vast majority of my practice is space. So a typical day for me the, sort of things I will do today, for example, I will, of course, speak to you. And it’s a pleasure to do that. So outreach, talking about the wonders of space, trying to help people get an interest in an inspiration in space. I will give a speech today to a conference in China, sadly, not in person, given the situation we are at the moment, I will be liaising with a consulting group, with whom I’m working and we are helping a country develop its space policy, then its strategy, then its law. So we’re working together, a group of us, having been asked by that country to work on that, then I will have two or three calls with some industry participants in Australia and overseas about some of the commercial things they’re doing. I’m working on some writing projects with people from various universities and institutes around the world. I have this role, as you know, at the UN, the chair, so I have a meeting tonight, where my co-chair and I am meeting with the Foreign Ministry of one of the member states to just update them on our work and seek their views on particular issues, remembering that COPUOS is 100 plus countries that we liaise with, in an informal way, many of them have also got a meeting with the United Nations Office about space affairrs, to talk about some logistical issues about our work – that’s today. But it’s many and varied. And it’s fun. I give lots of speeches, lots of podcasts, I even have my own podcast, which is a law breakfast, we meet every two months. And I invite people to deconstruct things that have gone on, deconstruct them and demystify the legal aspects of it, then we actually just had one the other day, which was fun, but it’s it’s many and varied. So I still maintain an academic role, although I’m not really teaching very much, and a research role and a collaborative role. But this, which is delightful diplomacy and politics, and advising governments, advising you and advising industry, and then outreach, you know, in a broad sense, and talking to many people, I’m also on the advisory body Australian Space Agency. I don’t work for the agency, I don’t speak for them. But we have regular meetings, and I look at some drafts of some of the roadmaps they’re doing at the moment, and there’s some ongoing work there. And, you know, things always come up. So, you know, I don’t know whether that sounds incredibly boring or not. But it

[Haritina Mogoșanu 21:27] sounds like a wonderful day.

[Steven Freeland 21:31] It’ll be a fun day, although this is the fun part talking, talking to people like you and people listening, who are passionate about space, and because, you really can share that passion and that enthusiasm and ]wouldn’t, wouldn’t it be great if the whole world could share that passion in a positive way about something? And I think space is an ideal thing. It’s all about language as well, because we, given the geopolitical time we’re in, we’re hearing more and more rhetoric, focusing on one aspect of space, military, national security, defense, warfighting. For me, it’s all about the language of space. Of course, we can’t deny how important it is for national security issues? Of course not. But it is so much more than that. And so I think, in the work that I do, and in the outreach I give, I’m trying to at least say, sure we have, we can’t ignore the importance of that. But we can’t ignore the importance of the whole range of other things. And we must make sure that in whatever discussions we have, we listened to all of those voices before we could we move on and make what might be decisions that have massive implications one way or the other.

[Haritina Mogoșanu 22:43] So you obviously didn’t pursue a STEM career. Obviously, people associate space with STEM most of the time. And it doesn’t have to be like that. You can do space if you do other than STEM.

[Steven Freeland 22:58] Definitely. And, you know, STEM is important. I mean, I wish I had an engineering degree, I wish I understood the physics of space. And in anything that I do, for example, in the mandate of our working group, which has now been agreed by the 110 countries, and it’s on the COPUOS website, the first thing we have to do is get all the information, all the technical [information], we really have to understand what it is we’re even talking about before we can begin to even think about how we’re going to do it and what frameworks might be involved. And so the only way forward on these really big issues is to involve, of course, the scientists and the engineers and the medical and the whole range of people because of course, the lawyers know, just one part of it. So I wish I did have more knowledge, but you sort of pick it up along the way, you know, just enough to be dangerous, so to speak. But it’s important scientists and engineers, and designers and innovators in industry, are so crucial to all of these debates.

[Haritina Mogoșanu 24:03] And here is an opportunity to collaborate and work together in teams. I was going to ask you, what’s the percentage of people that are working in the space environment today? Who are not coming from, from a STEM background? If you know.

[Steven Freeland 24:21] I don’t know the answer, but I would say there are so many people who don’t think of themselves as being involved in space. But when they sit down and you know, deconstruct what they’re doing, this is Space Connection. That is the wonderful – my partner, Donna, who was a commercial lawyer with OPTUS, this is a telecommunications company in Australia, it’s got geostationary satellites; she was doing all that work. She had always regarded herself as a technology lawyer. And then when we started being together, I said, well hang on, this is all about space. Not that I like that nomenclature of space lawyer – I actually don’t like that, I prefer to call myself an international lawyer, not a space lawyer but I said you’re a space lawyer as well. And her mindset shifted, she regards herself now as a space specialist and indeed, she and I have a space law firm together. One of the other things we do, we have a law firm called Azimuth Advisory where between the two of us we provide advice together, we’ve had about 45-50 years of experience in space. Everybody, you know, when you think about, a lot of people work on things that have a Space Connection. Space is so ubiquitous. Just in the law field, I’ve coined this phrase, what does it take to be a quote unquote, space-literate lawyer, and people seem to like that as an expression, of course, not every lawyer will be doing space transactions every day, not every lawyer will be involved in looking at the Outer Space Treaty or anything like that. But many, many more lawyers will have clients that have a space connection with telecommunications company, a television company, a transport company, an agricultural company, a financial company, they’re all involved in commercial transactions, for example, that have a space connection, that are reliant on space technology. And so law is becoming quote, unquote, more extraterrestrial. But so are so many other professions. Recently, I heard a podcast of this wonderful Dr. Deanna Tran, who was talking about how she’s specializing in the medicine of space, the medical aspects of space, which is so important, particularly given that there are ambitions of sending up many, many more humans to space for longer periods of time, etc. So that’s a whole field that we just know very little about; of course, there are engineers and designers and scientists and the explorers, space is such a huge economy now, you’ve got companies involving themselves, producing niche technologies that might be relevant for space, but also at the same time might be relevant for things on earth. So I think more and more people will see that space is even in a small way relevant to what they do, not everybody but relevant to what they do. And I think that’s important, because it will then promote more of the discussion about how we have to respect space, how space is fragile, how from a legal perspective, we all have a stake in it. And we have to, therefore, be very careful about how we move forward. And I think that can only be a positive thing.

[Haritina Mogoșanu 27:56] I have to ask, and I’m just curious, why is it you don’t like to call yourself a space lawyer?

[Steven Freeland 28:04] Oh, because I think if one says one is a space lawyer, then one has a mindset of silos. And all I would be interested is space. And I would focus on the laws or the policies just about space. I’m an international lawyer, because space, for example, Space Law, is embedded in much broader principles as well of international law. What else is relevant for space? International environmental law, international criminal law, international humanitarian law, international trade law, the list goes on and on, just from a law perspective, let alone all the politics and the science and all of that. So I think I would rather think of myself as you know, having some specific knowledge about space. And having, of course, a keen interest and I’ve done a lot of things, but keeping my mind broader, to bring in and recognize that other things are relevant. It’s an interesting thing. What do you tell your children when they study? Should they start off being generalists or specialists? And it’s a tough issue. But I would say, learn something about a whole range of different things, and you actually then will learn – and this is what I think my professional career taught me, how things actually are interdependent and have a relationship and they interact. And so for me, there are so many aspects about space, that, as I said, I’d like to say to myself, don’t just silo yourself as a specialist. See it for what it is it’s an important issue, but it’s just a part of a much, much, much broader range of factors that will also have some impact. Maybe I’m just fooling myself. But that’s, that’s my reason for it.

[Haritina Mogoșanu]  30:06 In terms of space exploration, you are doing all this work regarding all this exploration, exploitation and utilization of space resources. Can you tell us a little bit about what space resources are?

[Steven Freeland 30:24] Well, that’s a great question. As I said, as part of our work at the UN, we will need to get all this information about what it is, you know, what, why does humanity want to do this? Why does industry want to do this? What are they looking for, but in in my relatively rudimentary knowledge.

If we talk about the moon, just for the moment, there were so many different original ideas about what we were going to do on the moon, it apparently has significant deposits of a helium isotope called helium three. And people were going to go up there and mine the helium three and bring it back, and is this incredibly efficient way of generating energy. So far, business cases don’t work, let alone all the massive technological challenges. Business cases don’t work about going up mining bringing it back. And so the thinking has changed about the moon, and the thinking is let’s go to the moon, establish bases, and use that then as a platform for moving on. And so the first priority, I think, on the moon will be water, we know there are significant deposits, albeit not necessarily easy to access, but significant deposits of water at the poles of the moon. Water, of course, is crucial for life. If you’ve got humans living there it’s crucial to grow things. And then also with a relatively non technical process, you can convert water to fuel. So you create rocket fuel, which means their craft can go to the moon, and then actually, refill and then take off from there, etc, saving themselves lots of money. That’s the theory. So water is, from the moon’s perspective, the first thing, but there are other deposits of other things.

In terms of some of the asteroids, many of them apparently have huge deposits of nickel, and even gold and other, some rare earth minerals. Of course, we’ve heard about someone being the first trillionaire on Earth would be the person who’s capture an asteroid and exploit it. Again, I think we’re so far off from that, yet, the lure of the dollar means that industry is very interested in this. So that’s just the beginning. There must be other lots and lots of other potential resources.

Of course, we already have exploited natural resources in space. And one of them was difficult geopolitically, and we found a way. And so I’m talking here about the geostationary orbit, for example, which, as you know, is regarded in the constitution of the International Telecommunication Union as a limited natural resource, and it is, it’s incredibly valuable because of its unique characteristics. The technology was developed early on recognizing the unique characteristics of the orbit to exploit it. And then we began that geopolitical discussion, ideological discussion about the fact that only a relatively small number of countries had the capacity to actually exploit that resource, and how are we going to share it? Share the ability to do that, given the legal characteristics of space, is an area that we all have a stake in. [We had] really difficult discussions over decades, but we finally came to a solution, it’s not perfect by any means, but [it happened] through the ITU [International Telecommunication Union]. So that is already an example of humanity saying here’s a natural resource of space, we want to use it, we want to exploit it. There are haves and have nots in terms of capability, yet, given the way that we regard space from a legal and sociological perspective, we needed to find a way to manage that and we’ve been able to do that. If and when, and I still say if, but if and when we move forward to the exploiting of quote – unquote hard resources be it water or minerals or whatever, we’re going to have incredibly difficult discussions. Of course, say, you know, there’ll be haves and have nots. There are, even amongst the haves, given the geopolitical tensions we have on Earth, there are, obviously disagreements and difficulties, we’re going to have incredibly difficult discussions, but in the end – and otherwise I wouldn’t do it, you know, you have to be cautiously optimistic that you’ll find a way, that you can get buy in and that people will, by and large, agree to sing from the same song sheet, in whatever way we go forward, and as I said, nothing can be preempted, the decision as to what we might decide is appropriate, and I think we’ve got a long way to go in that as well, but it’s important to ensure that whatever we do, is calculated in an incredibly informed way. And these, these are tough, tough issues. But I’m hopeful that we’ll get there and already in the discussions we’ve had in our working group, we’ve started – we were established in June 2021, but before that, for the previous two years, we had, in a sense, a precursor to it, it was a different process, but we’ve had about 15 meetings of that precursor process plus the working group already, to get to consensus as to where we are now with our mandate and how we’re going to move forward in the working group. There’s been amazingly tough discussions, but goodwill in the room.

There’s a common understanding that we’ve got to get this right, whatever that means. And people often say to me: “the UN process it’s so slow, it’s torturous, industry can’t wait, come on, we need the answer today, we need, you know, the UN’s never going to decide.” Well, you know, I don’t accept that, of course, you know, UN’s multi lateral structures are cumbersome, they’re inefficient sometimes – I get all of that. Having a consensus basis for decision making, is difficult, takes time, compromise, I get all of that as well. The point is, we did reach consensus on a really tough, sensitive, geopolitically-based issue. We got consensus amongst countries who are not going to agree on anything else in the current climate. And it’s just the beginning. But I would say to people who are skeptical about a multilateral process, that, you know, the only way they will succeed, whatever success means, in their endeavors, is where there’s a process that others can also succeed, if they wish to. That’s not being idealistic, that’s not being optimistic, is being realistic.

We need, if we’re going to go forward in any big way in space, and also in other areas of global activities, and understanding space is not unique in this, but if we’re going to go, it has to be in a way, where everybody has had the ability to participate in the discussions. Because you know, it’s all about processes. Well, if you attempt to impose a set of rules, countries will say, “Well, I’m sorry, you know, I just don’t agree. And I’ve not been involved in this. So why should I accept that?” Countries do that all the time. Or even worse, if you’re going to say, “well, this group of countries is going to operate under these rules, this group of countries is going to operate under another set of rules, etc,” then that is a recipe for conflict, misunderstanding, miscalculation, confrontation, and worse, and issues about resources for example. If you look at the history of humankind on Earth, most wars or many wars on Earth have been about resources, about claims by countries to take areas because they want the resources they want to exploit. If we are talking about exploiting resources, natural resources in space, we’ve got to make sure that we avoid that as a possibility, minimizing the risks. And if we don’t do that, then I think we’re on absolutely the wrong path and a path that is fraught with danger. And there are already enough challenges in space with debris and increasing militarization and overcrowding, and, you know, a whole range of issues, irresponsible behavior. But resources, if we got it wrong, I think really has the risks associated with it, of taking us down on a part that we just cannot contemplate. But I’m confident that notwithstanding rhetoric, notwithstanding, every country wants to maximize its own advantages and beat the chest and show how strong they are, and, unfortunately, engage sometimes in irresponsible behavior and worse, unlawful behavior, but notwithstanding all of that, I think in the end, there is an understanding, that we’ve got more in common in space than we had differences. And that commonality means, we’ve got to make sure that we don’t cross lines because if I cross a line in an effort to thwart your ambitions, I’m also doing myself a disservice, and it will actually come back and, and have a negative impact on my own ambitions as well. And so it’s nobody wins in that it’s a lose – lose. And we’ve got to ensure that space continues to be a win for humanity. And along the way, if countries make money, that’s fine. If certain companies corporates develop and make money, that’s fine. But we just have to make sure that it’s a win for humanity in the longer term.

[Haritina Mogoșanu 40:57] With your experience, and your background as an international lawyer, why do you think we should go to space, as humanity?

[Steven Freeland 41:08] No. I think it’s inevitable. I mean, that’s the nature of humanity isn’t it? Some people still talk about space as a frontier, as a final frontier… perhaps it is, perhaps it’s not. But every quote unquote, frontier that we’ve come across, we’ve had this this curiosity, this motivation, this excitement, about seeing what we can learn, I think it’s important that we learn about our place in the universe, I think it’s important that we understand that notion, really is available, many people be aware of that notion of the tiny blue speck. And you know, we are this tiny thing in such a vast expanse that’s continually growing. That’s a humbling experience.

But I think it’s an important experience to recognize, how lucky we are, that we’re in a place where we can live and thrive and work and love, and you know, all of that, but also how fragile everything is around us. And I think as we learn more about our placing in the universe, what is humanity? What does it mean? What is our oneness as opposed to our differences, and I think space helps us in that, because it’s something we can all share, at least in our consciousness, I think that’s great for humanity. We have this thirst for knowledge and excitement, we all want to know more. And along the way, as we develop that capacity to explore space more, we develop technologies, which actually help us on Earth as well, there have been so many benefits to literally every person on the planet, albeit in different ways, by our ability to do things in space. And we’ve, as you said, we’re still at the very beginning, or at least we’re still in the overture. Not in the first act, yet. There’s a multitude of reasons. But humans are or have always been like that. Their individual motivations might be different. But as a as a humanity, we have this innate curiosity, that means we cannot ignore this. And we want to move forward. And, you know, I think that’s a great thing I think, there’s so many inspirational and learning notions about what we do in space, that are relevant in a way we think about our lives in a positive way. But humans are always going to do it anyway. And I think that’s a limitless ambition that we have.

[Haritina Mogoșanu 43:54] If you had the chance would you live in space?

[Steven Freeland 43:57] Well, I was on a podcast the other day, and someone said, would I be a space tourist? And I said, I’d love to go. But I’d probably like to be on the 10,000th flight not on the first 20 flights because you know, you only live once… Would l like to live in space? I’d love to say yes, I think so. But there’s a romanticism about it. Space is hard, right? This is an incredibly difficult, harsh, unwelcoming environment and welcoming in the sense that it’s not, it’s not made for humans, the way we’ve evolved, has been – we’ve evolved in reaction to the earth and all the characteristics of the earth, elsewhere is different. I was always curious about this notion, which was never going to go ahead, but this notion, you know, maybe half a dozen years ago of one way trips to Mars and the big brother, people who developed this concept, we’re going to have big brother type exercises about those that put their hand up and of course, it didn’t go ahead. But the motivations of those people for leaving their loved ones leaving their lives and never returning were interesting. So yes, of course, I’d love to experience that, I’d love to experience it. But we need to work out how are we going to do that, how we will interact, we need to create conduct rules about interactions between human beings who will live permanently in space, or let’s say, on the moon or wherever. Because these are totally different environments will need to. We will rely on each other so much more. One false move literally can have fatal consequences for everybody. There have been studies, people have been put in simulations in various places around the world, to see whether they could live in that sort of in the bubble. Literally…

[Haritina Mogoșanu 45:53] I’ve been to a few of those, myself

[Steven Freeland 45:55] Okay, so what was your experience? Do you think or think about flying to Mars?

Imagine, you and I are good friends, but imagine you and I were in this capsule for 12 months, we would kill each other right or, or whatever. There’s so many limitations. And one of the limitations about what we will do in space, is the physicality, the physiology of the human body. And the mentality of the human body. And the and the spirituality of the human body. We are resilient, but we really need to think about that. Nothing is easy. Given all of that, I would love to experience it. But I would also love to experience it knowing that I could come back. And that’s part of the issue. You know, when we have people living in – not only are they you know, in this harsh environment, but what rights do they have? You know? And do they have a right of return and given let’s say they’re not on the moon, but they’re on Mars, although I think we have a long, long way away from that. The latency of communication, the latency of being able to rescue someone, or, or supply them or whatever, what rights do people have when they go to space on a more permanent way? And I think that’s an issue that I still think we’ve got time, but we really need to start talking about that as well, because we are talking about human beings, and the dignity of the human being. And I think all of this is important that there’ll be many discussions, and many interesting ideas about how that might happen.

[Haritina Mogoșanu 47:35] Because this is a podcast about World Space Week, I have to ask, what is your favorite space technology?

[Steven Freeland 47:43] Oh, yeah, that’s a, that’s a great question. Golly, I wish you would have given me notice to think about that. I’m still in awe of the International Space Station. I know that we’re doing so many other things that might be more exciting and sexy, because we’re sort of used to the space station. But it’s been inhabited – extraordinary thought to think, notwhistanding everything I’ve just said about how difficult it is, that we’ve had humans permanently living in space for the last 20 plus years. And I think that’s extraordinary. I think a few weeks ago, we had a world record of 14 people in space, at the one time in various missions, etc. And, of course, the Chinese building the Tiangong space station, so we’ll have more, more of the same. For me – the International Space Station, one, it’s an extraordinary thing, two it’s an extraordinary piece of technology, it has allowed for so much experimentation. It’s allowed us to learn so much about ourselves, physiology, etc. It’s allowed us to understand, in small ways, space, it’s allowed us to really develop this idea that we are one, you know, everybody who comes back with the overview effect, etc. I think that’s important. But it’s, for me, it’s more important because it is the most complex, cooperative venture. And it encapsulates for me, notwithstanding all of the tensions and difficulties, and it’s about money and all that, how we can only really do the really big things if we cooperate. So I think it’s from that point of view, not only extraordinary technologically, but symbolically as well. And you see there are countries that are not friendly, sometimes on Earth, cooperating together in a significant way, only because of that, does this operation continue in such a successful way. So for me, I think it’s the Space Station, but there are so many other extraordinary pieces of technology. It’s a technology that had been developed to do so many things. But I think that’s the one for me that would stand out.

[Haritina Mogoșanu 50:03] And what a wonderful image to finish this. I have so many questions for you. So I really hope we can meet another time and talk even more. But today, thank you so much for participating and being part of our podcast and I hope to see you again.

[Steven Freeland 50:24]
Oh, Hari, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for asking me, for the wonderful questions. World Space Week is an extraordinarily important group, that brings awareness to so many people and really, that’s what it’s about, you know, getting more and more people to understand the wonders of space. And so where, if this helps, I’m really happy for though it’s just a pleasure talking to you too, and I’d be delighted to come back again.


Transcribed by

A collection of inspirational people, sharing their visions for humanity’s future in space — organised with the support of the the World Space Week Association.

World Space Week Association PODCASTING PROJECT TEAM

Host and producer: Haritina Mogoșanu, Senior Space Science Communicator WSW Association,
Co-host: Samuel Leske, Milky-Way.Kiwi

Special thanks to
– Milky-Way.Kiwi and New Zealand Astrobiology Network for the recording equipment and time.
– Rhian Sheehan for the music.
– Maruška Strah, Executive Director World Space Week Association.

The podcasts have been produced for the global World Space Week network.

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