Profitable Risk: The Dangers of Consumer Spaceflight and Space Tourism

Society is rapidly approaching an era in which ordinary civilians can purchase tickets to become passengers on space vehicles. Companies worldwide are deep in the development of infrastructure and technology to provide spaceflight for amusement and transportation. These endeavors deviate fundamentally from traditional spaceflight and raise questions about the ethical implications of commercial spaceflight with civilian passengers.

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Utilitarian Rights-based Arguments for Planetary Protection

Protecting solar system bodies from contamination by Earth life has been an active research topic since the start of the space race. The prospect of finding and possibly contaminating extraterrestrial life has caused the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) to set technical standards for planetary protection; planetary protection is essential to preserve humanity’s ability to study other worlds in their natural states, to avoid contamination that would obscure the ability to find life elsewhere, and to ensure that Earth’s biosphere is protected from alien life. Until recently, these utilitarian considerations have been sufficient in addressing all ethical concerns while exploring outer space. However, the prospect of terraforming Mars has sparked a debate over the ethical implications of destroying possible alien organisms. This paper provides a historical background regarding the ethical considerations in human space exploration and argues that the utilitarian considerations provided by the NASA Office of Planetary Protection are sufficient for answering ethical questions regarding planetary protection within the solar system.

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