Canada Now Willing to Punish Crimes Committed on the Moon

The 2017 Canadian Space Agency astronaut team.  Back: Jenni Sidey-Gibbons.  Front, left to right: David Saint-Jacques, Joshua Kutryk, Jeremy Hansen.

Astronauts may now face criminal charges for crimes committed on the way to the Moon.
Photo: NASA/Bill Stafford

More than 50 years ago, Apollo astronauts left 96 bags of their own waste on the surface of the Moon. But they didn’t exactly fear getting hit with a fine for littering, as space—the Moon included—has been a largely lawless region. Canadian law makers are hoping to change that.

Canada amended its criminal code on Thursday to allow for the prosecution of crimes committed by Canadian astronauts during trips to the Moon or on the lunar surface itself. Foreign astronauts who threaten the life or security of a Canadian astronaut can also be punished by Canadian law, according to broadcaster CBC.

Canada’s criminal code had already included crimes committed by its astronauts aboard the International Space Station as punishable by law. But the recent amendment now accounts for the Canadian Space Agency’s participation in the upcoming Artemis programthrough which NASA intends on sending people back to the Moon’s surface later this decade, and possibly as early as 2025.

The Artemis 2 mission, in which a crewed Orion capsule will travel to the Moon and back without landing, will include a Canadian astronaut. Canada is also contributing a robotic arm to the Lunar Gateway, a planned outpost in orbit around the Moon. The European Space Agency, as well as Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency, are also taking part in the Artemis program.

As these international collaborations take shape in the midst of an evolving industry, it has become more crucial to reconsider the laws currently in place when it comes to governing space. As it stands, space is loosely governed by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which was penned in light of the space race between the US and the Soviet Union. The treaty hasn’t been updated since, and article six of the Outer Space Treaty states that nations will oversee the activities of their citizens in space.

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