OPINION: The United States is going back to space. But we have some things to figure out on Earth first – by Michael Byers (Globe and Mail – May 23, 2020)


Michael Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law. Aaron Boley holds the Canada Research Chair in Planetary Astronomy. They teach at the University of British Columbia and co-direct the Outer Space Institute.

“That is a spacecraft, sir. We do not refer to it as a capsule,” said astronaut Alan Shepard, as portrayed by Scott Glenn in The Right Stuff.

Mr. Shepard was a pilot, not a passenger. In 1961, he became the first American to reach space; 10 years later, he walked on the moon.

This month, the United States returns to human spaceflight after a nine-year hiatus. There is much to celebrate, including in Canada, where the Canadian Space Agency works closely with NASA. Yet these celebrations should be tempered with caution, as the Trump administration seizes the moment to challenge long-standing rules of international space law – and demands acquiescence from Canada.

On May 27, American astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will launch from Cape Canaveral in a new model of spacecraft: Crew Dragon. This test flight, which includes a visit to the International Space Station (ISS) before the return to Earth, is the last major step in NASA’s human spaceflight certification process.

Since ending the Space Shuttle program in 2011, the U.S. has relied on Soyuz spacecraft for accessing the ISS. This reliance has precedent: Americans and Russians have been co-operating in space since the rendezvous of two Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft in 1975.

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