As part of NDISC’s Seminar Series, we were excited to welcome US Air Force officer and Academy professor Major Jeremy Grunert to campus. Major Grunert is an officer in the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. He has served as a military prosecutor and legal advisor on four continents. In his capacity as an Assistant Professor in the Air Force Academy’s Department of Law, Major Grunert teaches a course in his particular specialty: Space Law, which was the topic of the discussion. Below is a brief overview of the discussion.
"Lest the Stars Totter”
Major Grunert began with an explanation of the title of his talk: “Lest the Stars Totter.” This is a line from an Edgar Allan Poe poem named “Al Aaraff,” which translates to “the heights.”
To the proud orbs that twinkle – and so be
To ev’ry heart a barrier and a ban
Lest the stars totter in the guilt of man.”
“Outer space,” Grunert says, “the heights—an area above airspace and land. It belongs to no one; anyone can use it. Nothing inherently good or bad. Yet, for all its benefits, there are threats.”
Grunert explains that debris in orbit is a real threat, compounded by testing, launching, and destroying satellites—the accumulation of such can lead to what’s known as Kessler Syndrome, a proverbial “domino effect” in which debris in orbit crashes into orbiting spacecraft, creating more debris, increasing the probability of more collisions.
As Grunert observes, everything we do in the modern world is tied to space. Space technology dominates our modern lives—telecommunications, GPS systems, weather forecasting, and the internet are all made possible because of space faring technology. As the US Space Command so concisely say “Never a Day Without Space.”
Space Law dates back to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, but with people and thousands of satellites currently orbiting the earth, Space Law and its role in national and international security is just as important as when it was established.
There is evidence that President Dwight Eisenhower had been thinking about the role of space in international security as early as 1955 but considered the idea of “the freedom of space,” which asserts that space doesn’t have the same sovereignty as airspace, as a slight holdup. Since he wanted to launch reconnaissance satellites, Major Grunert postulates that Eisenhower may have been secretively happy the Soviets launched Sputnik since it gave the United States reason to launch their space program. Eisenhower didn’t view reconnaissance as a military purpose but knew others would. As such, the United States—under the leadership of Eisenhower and Kennedy—lobbied for the “peaceful/nonmilitary use of space.” Initially, the Soviets protested this, but as they started to fall behind in the Space Race, they eventually agreed.
Space Law was developed rather quickly—largely borrowing from the UN Charter. In short, the United States and the Soviet Union came to an agreement leading to The Outer Space Treaty, which gave the 2 countries the freedoms to use, explore, and engage in scientific exploration in space; no country could rule space, the moon, or any other celestial body.
Perhaps the most important development in Space Law was the legislation that space couldn’t be weaponized—no weapons could be deployed in space. Now, the definition of “weapon” has been nebulous. When the US launched the Space Shuttle with its robotic arm, the intention was for the Space Shuttle to be able to “grab” US-owned satellites so the crew could work on them, but the Russians and the Chinese were concerned the arm would be used as a means to grab their shuttles so the crew could damage them. This—of course—didn't happen. Also, as Grunert observes, while mining asteroids could be a great boon to humanity, the same technology could be easily used as an extraterrestrial weapon, which would violate Space Law.
We would like to thank Major Grunert for visiting and for his excellent talk. For more excellent NDISC events and information about our program, be sure to visit and get in touch!