Scientists are forming a new country with residents on Earth and a territory that consists of a satellite in orbit. You may not want to give up your current passport just yet.
Plans to create the first “nation in space” were unveiled in Paris on Wednesday. They are nothing if not ambitious.
The new nation will launch its own satellite in 2017 and dedicate itself to opening up access to space. The goal is to foster world peace, as well as protect earth from rogue asteroids and space debris.
The new space country will be called “Asgardia,” named for the city in the skies ruled by Norse god Odin.
We aren’t talking about an actual orbiting city or space station where humans will live. Instead, it’s more a scientific, legal and technological experiment being led by Russian nanoscientist Dr. Igor Ashurbeyli, founder of the Aerospace International Research Center and newly appointed chairman of UNESCO’s Science of Space committee.
“Asgardia is also unique from a philosophical aspect — to serve entire humanity and each and everyone, regardless of his or her personal welfare and the prosperity of the country where they happened to be born,” Ashurbeyli said in a release.
A rather simple website for Asgardia launched after a press conference Wednesday to kick off crowdsourcing the new country’s flag, insignia and anthem. It will also allow wannabe Asgardians to register their interest for citizenship. The idea is that once Asgardia has 100,000 people applying for citizenship, it is then eligible to apply to the United Nations for official nation status, according to Ashurbeyli.
Supposedly all Asgardians would remain physically in their current resident nations, but also be citizens of this other country with its sole territory in the galaxy being a satellite circling the Earth. It’s the access to space the satellite represents that is really the point of the whole thing.
“The mission of Asgardia (is) to create opportunities for broader access to space, enabling non-traditional space nations to realize their scientific aspirations is exciting,” said Professor David Alexander, director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University.
The way space works now is that there’s something called the Outer Space Treaty that most (but not all) nations have signed. It essentially says that whatever country sends a mission to space is then responsible for that mission. So if NASA or an American company like SpaceX sent up a satellite that crashed into and destroyed a Russian satellite, Russia can hold the United States Government accountable.
In turn, this means the US Government has to regulate American companies working in space to avoid such international incidents.
So it’s easy to see Asgardia as simply a way to either side-step the Outer Space Treaty or perhaps do an end-run around government regulations that are a key part of making the treaty work by forming a new government accountable to nobody but the space enthusiasts that formed it.
I contacted space lawyer (yes, that’s a thing) Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz, who is editor-in-chief Emerita of the Journal of Space Law, and she told me that Asgardia is likely to have trouble in its quest to be recognized as a country.
“Under international law, there are specific criteria for an entity to be recognized as a nation. It must have territory and a population, and be recognized as a nation by other nations, among other things. Just declaring that a nation exists is not enough,” she told me via e-mail. “There are (a) number of entities on Earth whose status as an independent nation have been a matter of dispute for a long time. It is reasonable to expect that the status an unpopulated object that is not on Earth will be disputed.”
A 23rd-century tourist guide to the galaxy
There’s also at least one other independent nation in space that’s already been declared and disputed.
In 1949, American James Mangan filed paperwork with Cook County, Illinois laying claim to all of space beyond Earth, declaring it the “Nation of Celestial Space” (also known as “Celestia”) with himself as founder and representative. Mangan had similar designs on securing peace in space and quickly set about defending his claim by notifying the US, Soviet Union and a few other nations that his country had banned atmospheric nuclear tests. In the early days of the space race he would also send letters to the Americans and Soviets protesting their encroachment on his territory.
The world, including the United Nations, politely ignored Mangan’s persistent requests for acknowledgment for decades. He passed away in 1970 and little has been heard from Celestia since.
Asgardia has the benefit of the internet to organize its claim to existence and perhaps raise funds for the satellite that would give it a physical territory in the universe and some basic utility for its “citizens” to rally around.
It still remains to be seen if the United Nations and the rest of humanity will see Asgardia as any more legit than Celestia, but that hasn’t stopped over 4,000 potential Asgardians from registering their interest in under 12 hours.
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