The ethics of space exploration

Do we need an ethical framework before the cat is out of the bag?
29 September 2023

Interview with 

Vaso Rahimzadeh, Baylor College of Medicine & Avi Loeb, Harvard University


Space exploration is going commercial. No longer solely the preserve of superpowers, companies are competing over resources to gain first mover advantage in space mining, solar power and cosmic tourism. Pioneering any new industry though requires risk taking, but space is on a whole new level of health and safety hazard. So as corporations embark on new space ventures, Vaso Rahimzadeh of Baylor College of Medicine is calling for stricter ethical regulations to ensure safe practice is prioritised over profit. That’s why she’s helped to draft up an ethical framework for commercial research in space.

Vaso - One of the case studies that we really focused on was a really worrisome condition. It affects eyesight that persist after astronauts return back to earth. One of the standard ways studying this particular syndrome is through probes inserted directly into the brain. And given that you're flying at enormous G forces, it's incredibly dangerous. And so there hasn't been a way that we can study this condition effectively. It raised lots of questions that we often encounter on Earth about are there upper limits to risk that we must always respect? And how does that either enhance or in some cases, violate somebody's personal autonomy to take on that risk for the advancement of knowledge or the benefit of society? I think the notion of the common good and uptake is really heightened in the space sector because we rely so much on each other. You know, this is an area where the lone scientists or the lone laboratory cannot make the kinds of discoveries and advancements needed to understand our place in the world and to understand how to make commercial space safer. So inevitably, even companies have to rely on data collected across other studies and investments that have been made in research across other companies.


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