Friday, April 25, 2008

An International Law Protecting Astronauts?

Ever since the recent incident of the Russian-owned Soyuz spacecraft veering hundreds of miles off course as it returns from the ISS, will returning astronauts soon be a target of terrorists and militants?

By: Vanessa Uy

Imagine this scenario: Astronauts returning from their duties on the International Space Station facing technical problems of their guidance system suddenly find themselves doing an emergency landing on hostile territory. Due to lack of special forces-type evasion training, the astronauts are soon captured and taken hostage by militants / terrorists. Worse still, the astronauts are executed for the world to see via an Internet broadcast. A mere myth or something the International Community will be forced to confront sooner rather than later?

Scare mongering aside, space travel via existing technology is still very much a dangerous endeavor. From the early days of the Apollo Lunar Program were three astronauts died while a fire gutted their spacecraft while still in a launch pad at Cape Kennedy. To the Challenger disaster of 1986, then came the 2003 fatal reentry mishap of the Columbia space shuttle – space travel really is a risky business. But like the rest of us, astronauts’ are a resilient breed. The harrowing ordeal of the Apollo 13 crew only highlights our drive to tackle dangerous challenges and survive. So far, no astronaut has ever perished while still in space. The question now is, should every astronaut’s training regimen be augmented by anti-terrorism tactics and counter insurgency, given the increasing possibility they could land in a hostile territory, like Taliban controlled regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan? Not to mention countries like Iraq, Iran, North Korea and parts of the Balkan Region not very friendly to Western Powers.

As more and more nations pursue their own space programs like the European Union’s ESA plus Japan, China and to a smaller extent, South Korea. NASA is no longer the sole monopoly when it comes to space exploration. Given that in the near future when space-based industries might become a technical and financial reality. Blue collar / working class astronauts might now commute to and from Earth orbit just as easily as we ferry oil rig workers to and from North Sea oil platforms at present. Given this frequency there’s bound to be an incident when these workers might do an emergency landing in hostile territory. Will the astronauts’ / workers’ respective companies “private security contractors” mount a rescue operation similar to that performed on US Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady as he landed behind enemy lines when his F-16 was shot down over Bosnia-Herzegovina back in June 1995?

In the long history of Western pop culture, incidents like the one mentioned before are not only a staple of science fiction literature and films but also of the action adventure genre. Though not often enough to make our legal experts to legislate laws to protect our astronauts from being used as bargaining chips by terrorist organizations. There is not even one to protect space-based assets like satellites and space probes from being “unlawfully sequestered” on the sovereign territory they accidentally crashed into. Though these satellites are a cheap and easy source of weapons grade fissionable materials.

Should all of us – especially the International Community – just wishfully hope that our brave astronauts manage to avoid landing on hostile territory? Or should we pursue a more proactive solution like legislating laws protecting our astronauts from being taken hostage. A law that makes it obligatory for all seagoing vessels to assist anyone in distress on the high seas already exists. A similar one for astronauts is badly needed. Or should astronauts practice saying: “Get your paws off me you damn dirty ape!” in Farsi, Pashto, Korean, Arabic, Serbo-Croat and / or any other language in use by the local terrorists?


Sarah said...

Have you seen the news recently about tourists on a French luxury yact abducted by pirates of the Somali coast. Fortunately, French Special Forces have successfully rescued the tourists and apprehended the pirates without unnecessary collateral damage. Isn't there already an International Law to prevent things like these (piracy on the high seas) from happening? To me, your proposed International Law protecting Earthbound astronauts who accidentaly stray in hostile territory is next to useless as cited in the example I just mentioned.
Do you remember a certain episode of SEAQUEST DSV when astronauts returning from Mars landed in a country thats not very friendly to the US? They solved the debacle via diplomatic means. Given SEAQUEST DSV 's science consultant - Dr. Bob Ballard - famed not for only finding the wreck of the Titanic. He is widely known to have been "allegedly" involved in various US Navy "Black" operations. I think the SEAQUEST DSV episode is the most likely way the International Community will handle such problems.
P.S. is the Korean astronaut Yi So-yeon inspired by Linda Park's character on the Enterprise / Star Trek prequel TV series?

VaneSSa said...

I think this is the number one topic that NASA seems actively - I mean really actively - from becoming a topic of public discussion. There was an episode of Future Weapons where the presenter - former US Navy SEAL Richard Machowicz presented Knight's Armory's PDW. On this particular episode, it was highlighted that Knight's Armory is based on Cape Canaveral. Highlighting the fact that US astronauts already have a viable weapons system to protect themselves in case they are unfortunate enough to crash-land on a hostile territory. Like Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. CNN's Larry King should do a story on this. Highlighting both the lack and unenforceable nature of an International Law that could protect stranded astronauts in hostile regions of the world. Looks like Swat Valley and parts of Helmand Province are magnitudes more dangerous than the hard vacuum of outer space.

Guapita said...

The Soyuz Space Capsule did stray over 400 miles from its intended landing zone back in April 2008 after returning to Earth from the International Space Station. The story - then and now - never became a discussion du jour for a lot of factors.
In the overall scheme of things, I think the legislation and the subsequent "enforcement" - of a binding International Law or Treaty to protect returning astronauts from being used as hostages in the event they accidentally crash-land in a hostile territory, like the Taliban-controlled parts of Swat Valley or Helmand Province probably ranks last in the global geo-politicking. Maybe CNN's Larry King should ask former Apollo astronauts like Buzz Aldrin whether astronauts should receive firearms proficiency training in case they crash-land in a hostile territory that's very unfriendly to the West. This could / would make a very good The Unit episode. Imagine Dennis "Snake Doctor" Haysbert rescuing stranded astronauts from a Taliban-controlled region of Afghanistan. Maybe astronauts should begin carrying Knight's Armory PDWs like the one demonstrated by ex-Navy SEAL Richard Machowicz on the episode of Future Weapons in the Cape Canaveral gun range.

Andres said...

I think a similar issue plagues raw US Army recruits on why they are sent to Iraq and why does the Bush Administration haven't invaded a "nice" place like Saint Tropez, France or San Fernando Valley California. Although if astronauts ever do an emergency landing in San Fernando Valley, California - would this be like the movie Barbarella?
I think the UN should work on an International Treaty or Law that would protect returning astronauts from the ISS in case they land in a Taliban-controlled part of Swat Valley, Pakistan or Helmand province, Afghanistan. Remember back in April 21, 2008 when the Soyuz Spacecraft strayed off-course during landing? The NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and the South Korean astronaut Yi So-Yeon could have been easily stranded in the middle of Helmand Province - and I hope NASA has provided them with protection in situation like this. Like arming them with Knight's Armament Company's PDW. Or will they be rescued by Dennis "Snake Doctor" Haysbert and the rest of The Unit?
Though a treaty that would be drafted before the end of the Obama Administration will be unlikely because the UN can't even enforce their preexisting "Peaceful Uses of Outer Space" treaty.

Rojer said...

Using Knight's Armament Company's PDW as a standard gear for astronauts in case they got off course and land in a hostile Taliban controlled territory? It could work, especially when the existing UN Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Treaty doesn't offer protection to astronauts landing in hostile territories from being taken hostage and used as political bargaining chips. It is high-time to formulate and enforce an International Treaty or an International Law to protect Earth-returning astronauts. Declaring these astronauts them as non-combatants simply won't work - remember the Giant Buddha statues in Bamyan Province that were blown up by the Taliban? Those Giant Buddha statues were not only UNESCO World Heritage Sites - but also non-combatants as well.
And it could happen, given that the Soyuz Spacecraft did went off course last April 21, 2008 and their regular landing spot in Kazakhstan used by returning astronauts from the International Space Station not using the NASA space shuttle is not that far from Swat Valley, Helmand Province or any other Taliban controlled region in the immediate vicinity. This could be a good idea for an episode for THE UNIT.

Jon said...

The issue of whether we need a legally binding International Law or International Treaty to protect our astronauts in case they land in a hostile country from being charged for spying, taken hostage by the hostile country or from being executed has now been renewed anew. The recent Taliban propaganda video showing a captured American soldier serving in Afghanistan is -according to the Pentagon Top Brass - a violation of the Geneva Convention.
Given that International Laws like these are very hard to enforce - like the UN Resolutions 242 and 338 which clearly asks Israel to go back to the 1967 era borders. But if everyone - including the Taliban and Al Qaeda - honors the Geneva Convention with regards to non-combatants, we would be having a monthly stream of exclusive interviews of Osama Bin Laden by CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
Unenforceable International Treaties are akin to the Wild-West era America, only those with the arms and power - i.e. the power of intent and ability - would be able to enforce these laws. Thus I am in favor of arming our astronauts, especially with the Knight's Armament Company's PDW. Given that they are compact enough to fit inside the cramped confines of the Soyuz Spacecraft.

Nadine said...

After the latest global media coverage of 23 year old Private Bowe Bergdahl - a US soldier serving in Afghanistan - being held captive by the Taliban. While the Pentagon's Top Brass cries foul over the broadcast of the Taliban propaganda video as a violation of the Geneva Convention.
Private Bergdahl could have been easily a returning astronaut from the International Space Station who will most likely in the future could land in Taliban-controlled Swat Valley or Helmand Province due to a "faulty" ballistic re-entry calculation of the Soyuz Spacecraft or any similar spacecraft whose aerodynamic characteristics resemble that of a brick.
This is probably why former US Navy SEAL Richard Machowicz presented a Future Weapons episode in Cape Canaveral to show-off the Knight's Armament company's PDW - which could probably become "standard equipment" of astronauts returning from the ISS. Wild-West Taliban-controlled Earth is magnitudes more dangerous than the hard vacuum of outer space.

Hera said...

Now it is Private Bowe Bergdahl, but who knows which hostage will the Taliban take next. Returning ISS astronauts stranded in Taliban controlled parts of Afghanistan is far too tempting to resist. Should the Pentagon start arming NASA astronauts with Knight's Armament Company's PDWs? You betcha! Untill a binding International Law to protect astronauts is established, arming then will just have to do.

Ringo said...

Thank you all for caring about this somewhat esoteric aspect of "International Law" that still has no legal precedent whatsoever. At present, the closest legal issue we have of whether there should be a binding International Law or International Treaty to protect our astronauts - especially those returning from the International Space Station - from being taken hostage, imprisoned as spies, or just from being shot dead outright on the spot when they land on countries and territories currently at war with the International Community.
At present, the closest we have on this legal conundrum for a legal precedent is the unlawful captivity of 23 year old US Army serviceman Private Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban and whether using the young American soldier's image for the Taliban's propaganda purposes violates the Geneva Convention. I hope those of you suggesting arming our astronauts with Knight's Armament Company's PDW think that this weapons system is the right one to use given the cramped confines of the venerable Soyuz Space Capsule, as opposed to just endorsing C. Reed Knight, Jr.'s excellent product. I know, it would be somewhat ridiculous to arm these astronauts with FN-FALs.

Ariel said...

I think the 23 year old American soldier Private Bowe Bergdahl being held hostage by the Taliban and made as a political propaganda would probably serve as an excellent legal precedent on legislating an International Law that protects astronauts from being used as a hostage, tried as spies or being shot on sight whenever they accidentally land on a hostile territory that is currently at war with the United States. Though the non-combatant clause of the Geneva Convention had never been honored by the Taliban and/or Al Qaeda.

Jacob said...

I do agree that the hostage taking of private first class Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban sets a legal precedent when it comes to the astronaut being taken hostage issue of this blog. although enforcing such International Law to protect stranded astronauts could be next to impossible.

VaneSSa said...

Sometimes, I do wonder why US Army personnel are not assigned to "secure" more idyllic locals after former US President George "Dubya" Bush declared his "War on Terror". Saint Tropez, France and the faux-Tuscan setting of San Fernando Valley, California frequently springs to mind.
Whether a UN-backed International Law to protect astronauts doing an emergency landing in hostile territories could ever be legislated now looks doubtful, never mind enforcing such law. A case in point is the unenforceable UN Resolutions 242 and 338 asking Israel to return to the pre-1967 Arab-Israeli War era borders. Although the unfortunate capture of 23 year old Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban might serve as a legal precedent for this thorny legal issue.

VaneSSa said...

Either by fate or by fortune, current events seem to have help those in search of a legal precedent to help resolve the viability of setting up a UN-backed International Law that serves to protect astronauts that have to do an emergency landing in hostile countries. The recent "successful" negotiation by former US President Bill Clinton for the release of the two imprisoned American journalist who got confused on whether which side they are on the border between North Korea and the People's Republic of China - i.e. Journalists Lee and Ling. Fortunately for Bill Clinton, North Korean Kim Jong Il is in a "diplomatic" mood.
The recent capture of three American hikers who strayed into Iran after hiking from the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq - i.e. the resort town of Ahmed Awaa. These hikers are probably curious enough to risk their necks to see first hand the aftermath of Chemical Ali's sarin gas, mustard gas, and hydrogen cyanide gas-based attack of the border town of Halabja back in 1988.
These recent incidences of "lost trekkers" being accused of espionage after confusing over which side of the border they actually are could serve as a legal precedent over which to formulate an International law to protect stranded astronauts - especially since most of them will be using the less-than-controllable Soyuz spacecraft when returning from the International Space Station after the NASA space shuttle fleet's planned retirement next year. And there won't be a shuttle replacement for at least 5 years.

Nancy said...

International treaty or not - designating astronauts as "non-combatants" doesn't make them bullet resistant against a 666-Grain 50-caliber bullet fired from a Soviet ear Dushka crew-serve machine gun often carried by the Afghan Taliban.