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Haley Archive: Space Rescue—An Opportunity for International Cooperation in Space

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Michael DodgeBy Michael Dodge with the blog faculty

An early space law document concerning the logistics of the rescue of stranded astronauts and cosmonauts has been discovered in the Haley Archive. The booklet, titled Space Rescue—An Opportunity for International Cooperation in Space, was prepared by the “Martin Company of the Martin Marietta Corporation” for public presentation at the Eighth Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space, held in conjunction with the Sixteenth International Astronautical Congress in Athens, Greece, held September 14-15, 1965. The booklet contains a number of intriguing facts, historical data, hypotheses and predictions for future human interaction in outer space, and proposals for the proper rescue plans needed to aid stranded individuals. The crux of the document is the argument that an international rescue service should be created to promote the cooperation of space faring nation-states and the safe return of stranded astronauts and cosmonauts.

The document is divided into three Parts. Part I concerns a “New International Need”. It discusses the global and national repercussions of possible disasters that occur in space, noting the outrage that would be created if no means of rescuing astronauts or cosmonauts existed. Part I also states that the problem of space rescue will eventually affect more than the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. Part II discusses the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts, and extensively utilizes a probability analysis of an “assumed manned mission matrix”. Part III discusses the then -proposed “International Space Rescue System”, noting that this could be a humanitarian enterprise to unite the efforts of the Earth’s most powerful nation-states in a field of great sensitivity.

Part III is divided into five subsections. In the first, the need for a “Space Rescue Code” is promoted, and notes that the code “would merely establish a policy to guide the action of each country in relation to the rights of others in handling distressed spacecraft, particularly in their recovery from space and in their emergency landing upon foreign territory”. Step two would involve an agreement between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. to implement a firm schedule concerning when the rescue service would be effective. Step three aims to promote increased cooperation between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R., including an exchange of information and parallel proficiency exercises. Step four involves the participation of friendly nationals on each side of the agreement. Finally, step five involves joining the independent allied organizations into a single group, and notes that eventually this organization may grow and be subsumed within the ambit of the United Nations, albeit in such a way as to preclude diminution of national sovereignty.

Perhaps most interesting of all is that the document preceded by three years the adoption of the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space, Apr. 22, 1968, 19 U.S.T. 7570, 672 U.N.T.S. 119 (Return and Rescue Agreement). Though Martin’s plan is different than the eventual Return and Rescue Agreement, it embodies the same spirit of international legal cooperation designed to ensure the safe return of astronauts and cosmonauts proposed at the 1965 Space Law Colloquium.