Posted by: bridget | 1 April 2008


The ABA Journal’s lead article: “Making Space Matter.” No, it’s not about organising your desk – it’s about space law. It’s the new, hot area in the legal profession that, until a few years ago, was virtually unknown.

In fact, it was so unknown that interviewers (well, one in particular) at Northwestern School of Law felt totally justified in openly mocking interviewees (again, one in particular) who mentioned the topic. Let’s flash back to March 2004.

The scene: yours truly and an interviewer, mid-30s, NW Law grad, undergrad in poli sci. The last part made this entire venture slightly problematic. He had already asked a series of questions like, “Why did you work on a poetry magazine in college? Engineers don’t write poetry.” You can just imagine the fun we had when he asked about this project (which, at the time, was front and centre on my resume – wrote the final report, did most of the research in the lab, went to the conference, presented at MRS). After he had told me, no less than a half dozen times, that this project was really, really weird (no kidding – it came straight from science fiction), he asked, “Why do you want to go into law?”

Silly me, I thought that a totally logical response would be to discuss the cutting-edge legal issues that surround cutting-edge technology. Make new stuff, and the very retrospective, reactive legal system has to adjust. The new stuff does not always fit within the paradigms that simply did not contemplate it when the laws were made. The second the term “space law” was out of my mouth, he flipped.

“Space law? I’m a lawyer and I’ve never even heard of space law. Does that even exist?”

Pachyderm: “Yes, it does. There is a woman at Ole Miss who runs a space law centre. She came to speak at the Space Elevator conference to discuss the legal issues.”

Mr. Poli Sci: “But how can you regulate the planets and the stars and the heavens?”

Pachyderm, to self: “You know, that’s a great point! I have no idea how maritime law regulates the dolphins and the oceans and the seashells! Aviation law – those poor, over-regulated birds!”

Pachyderm, out loud (and inner response probably not hidden well – whoops): “Well, you can regulate what you put up in space. The relevant rule, that I know, is that you are bound to ensure that whatever you put up into space avoids everything that is put up there before it.”

Mr. Poli Sci: “I guess that’s a good point. You can’t have satellites colliding into each other. But how can you get nations to agree on this?”

Pachyderm, to self: “You sign a *(&&$ treaty, which, last time I checked, can apply to big, scary scientific-sounding projects just as easily as it can apply to anything else.”

Pachyderm, out loud: “Sign a treaty. I imagine that ‘all of the nations’ is somewhat inaccurate, though, as Ghana probably doesn’t have much of a space programme.”

Mr. Poli Sci: Big sigh. “I guess that could happen. It’s still really weird. I’ve never heard of this.”

Well, Mr. Poli Sci, it’s on the front page of the ABA Journal this month, and it’s not an April Fool’s joke. How do you feel NOW?



  1. Dang, there’s been all kinds of SF about this, as any self-respecting nerd would know. Maybe poli-sci people aren’t nerds, or aren’t self-respecting.

    Seriously, anyone these days who doesn’t read speculative fiction is always going to be a step behind.

  2. Obviously, Mr. Poli Sci never watched Dr. Who, or he would know that you can face down giant green lobbering space monsters intent on eating the earth with nothing more than a sonic screwdriver, and the ability to cite intergalactice case law very very quickly.

    Well, and a really really long scarf, but that’s beside the point.


    …does this guy not know that EVERY human endeavor that involves money, limited resources (there’s a whole lot of space…not so much orbit), and liability (anyone heard of crashing satilites lately?) etc. is going to need a law specialty to address it?

  3. ‘course, I think it would be even more fun to be a space trash collector than a space lawyer. You gotta go into space to ge the trash. A space lawyer might never get a chance to leave the planet!

  4. Laura,

    Maybe both. ;) You are right re: being behind if you don’t read speculative fiction. Heck, half the stuff they do these days sounds like it was straight out of a sci-fi novel.

    On a random note, have you read Paris in the Twentieth Century?


    Obviously, Mr. Poli Sci never watched Dr. Who, or he would know that you can face down giant green lobbering space monsters intent on eating the earth with nothing more than a sonic screwdriver, and the ability to cite intergalactice case law very very quickly.

    *(&(*^&! I didn’t take any courses in that. I’m 40 days away from graduation and NOW I know that intergalactic space law can save my life?

    …does this guy not know that EVERY human endeavor that involves money, limited resources (there’s a whole lot of space…not so much orbit), and liability (anyone heard of crashing satilites lately?) etc. is going to need a law specialty to address it?

    You hit the nail on the head. What really surprised me about the whole thing was not that he hadn’t heard of space law, but that he didn’t immediately think, “Of course, you need space law.”

  5. You will be glad to know that you are relatively safe, statistically, very few giant green lobbering space monsters study law. Therefore you should be able to fake it quite easily.

    Actually, I believe that most of these monsters become bureaucrats.

    That may be the real cause of global warming, after all what giant green lobbering space monster would want to eat a cold earth?

  6. This reminds me of a little story frm when I was a kid. My brother was always ridiculing me for reading Asmov, Bester, Heinlein, Clark, et al.

    He’d say “Why do you read those stupid stories with clones and lasers and time travel and spaceships? I prefer to live in reality.

    Then, one day many years later, they announced Dolly the sheep.

    I called my brother and said “Who’s living in reality NOW?!”

    He replied “Call me when the cloned sheep can get in her spaceship and fly back in time and kill a dinosaur with a laser gun.”

    And I said “OK! I will! Wait. You’re a creationist who doesn’t believe dinosaurs ever exsisted”.

    And he said “And you’re a hippy flake who believes in time travel.”

    And then I said…”Um, no I don’t. See, I realize that my books are fiction.”

    and then we paused in the conversation for a few minutes and politly but coldly ended the conversation. :-)

  7. “have you read Paris in the Twentieth Century?”

    No, I haven’t. I’ll have to look into it. I used to love Jules Verne, esp. The Mysterious Island.

    My boss and I were just talking about speculative fiction the other day. I told him about A Logic Named Joe, which was written in 1946 and seems to predict PCs and the internet and to anticipate problems with privacy and so forth.

  8. The space elevator idea is so cool. I can’t believe you worked on it. You’re now one of my heroes.

  9. Teresa,

    I have a picture of you calling up your brother after Dolly was cloned – ha, we’ve done it! As for the last part of you conversation, I fail to see why he simply didn’t tell you, “Better hope that I don’t call you up during the Second Coming when MY book turns out to be real!” Sheesh, people – why not continue the banter?


    I’ll have to read “A Logic Named Joe” when I have some free time (wait, that’s never gonna happen) – okay, when I don’t want to do homework. :)


    You’re still reading. :) Welcome back. :)

    Thank you, thank you. [Curtsies]

  10. Theo,

    Continuing the bantar WOULD have made a better story. Unfortunatly, that’s not the way it went.

    Perhaps he thought about saying it, but then remembered the panic attack I had one time when I came and there was nobody home. That’s not unusual, but the big family of religious nuts had been on the bus that morning, and were not on the bus in the afternoon. There were two uber-religious home-school families on our road. I called them, they weren’t home. Neither was the moderatly religious family, though their two evil bratty kids had been on the bus.

    I freaked out ’cause I thought I’d missed the rapture. Total panic attack. Heart palpitations and everything.

    So sad. Of course, I claim exemption from being pathetic, as I WAS just a little kid, and we HAD been told to expect it ANY DAY.


  11. Space law? What is that? HA!

  12. TT,

    You’re mocking from a safe distance, right? :-)

  13. Teresa,

    I have to admit – I laughed when I read that story. How old were you? Didn’t anyone explain that it’s sort of tough to miss the Second Coming?


    What was that? You say something? Must have missed it. :p

  14. Theo,

    Somewhere between the ages of 8 and 10, I think. Too young to face burning mountains and rivers of blood and demon armies alone, I’d say.

    Um, no, they didn’t say it would be hard to miss, they said it would come like a thief in the night, nobody would know, and that the rightous would just disappear *poof!*

    I didn’t know how long it would be between all the rightous people I knew going “poof” and the rivers of blood, but it didn’t look good.

    I’d “Given my heart to Jesus” about a bajillion times, but it never took, you see…none of the signs you were supposed to have to know you were saved…so I figured the Holy Spirit just didn’t want to move me to true repentance…not one of the elect.

    I knew I was screwed…but I’d hoped to at least reach adulthood first. :-)

  15. In my defense, for a while there, Iwent to a church where the pastor was a little heavy on the rapture-and-brimstone. I wasn’t the only kid that had regular re-occuring nightmares about missing the rapture. I know at least two others. :-)

  16. That’s weird about your law prof’s response. I’m a law librarian and I know exactly where our Space Law collection is located. ;)

  17. Freaky small world. I browsed to this blog from a comment on Volokh, and find this post… an ex-girlfriend of mine is the assistant director at the Ole Miss space law center.

    Agreed that even if Interviewer had never heard of space law, it should be intuitively obvious that it was a valid field.

  18. Very small world.

    Even as a non-lawyer, the idea of space law made some intuitive sense to me, and I never even watched Star Trek. :)

    Don’t think I’ve seen your comments on Volokh… not there very often these days.

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