Today, filling space included a rulebook.
When the Outer Space Treaty was signed on this day in 1967, the space race still looked more like a marathon than a sprint. Apollo 11 was two and a half years in the future. The world had yet to see 2001, A Space Odyssey first, but it was commonly presumed (if not literally promised) that human exploration of space would continue indefinitely, giving us bases on the Moon, colonies on other planets and, ultimately, a student exchange program with the leading university on Arcturus.
That’s why it seemed to the countries participating in the race that we earthlings needed a treaty to govern what we’d do there. Interestingly, what the signers wanted to make sure was that nobody else could lay claim to any celestial objects or the resources thereof since, just as political intrigue and commercial avarice had fueled most of the exploration and development of the New World here on Earth (save for the migrations prompted by religious fervor or persecution), they imagined similar riches to be found on alien worlds. The other major component of the treaty said that space would be one giant “nuclear free zone,” in due deference to preserving the wealth they’d all share. Over time, 115 countries joined the treaty community, even though only a handful have ever lobbed something beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Right now, humanity’s space odyssey amounts to a handful of people swapping maintenance duties in a stinky can hovering in low earth orbit. Most of the folks who signed the treaty don’t even think it qualifies to be called “outer space.”
Funny how we felt compelled to declare a community before one really existed.