Exactly half a century ago, the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom signed the “Treaty on the Principles of State Activities for the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies”. This international agreement defined and still defines not so much the rights that each of the signatory powers has in space, but the restrictions and prohibitions, the purpose of which is to avoid international conflicts. The Treaty did not enter into force until 10 October 1967, when all interested parties signed and ratified it.
As soon as the first successful space projects appeared and the most successful countries in this respect (mainly the United States and the Soviet Union) felt more secure in space, the political and simply ethical question arose as to what purposes the use of outer space is allowed. The first steps in space exploration took place at the height of the Cold War, and the arms race was in full swing. In addition, it was already known at this time what an atomic bomb was when it was applied to settlements. The rival superpowers did not want the arms race to spread to outer space, which would no doubt sooner or later lead to a universal catastrophe. Therefore, the most important points in the agreement can be considered as those that are dedicated to weapons in space.
The Treaty prohibits the deployment of weapons of mass destruction (that is, nuclear, chemical or biological) in outer space and on celestial bodies. However, other types of weapons are not discussed in the agreement. It is also forbidden to build military installations or the installation of mechanisms that have a military purpose on celestial bodies. According to the Treaty, outer space is intended only for peaceful uses and scientific research. At the same time, each of the powers that sign the document renounces demands for the appropriation of any territory in outer space, which is “the property of all mankind.”
The Outer Space Treaty also contains the rules of “space etiquette”: astronauts are required to provide assistance to astronauts from another country if necessary; in the event that an astronaut returning from outer space fails to land on the territory of his country, he must be delivered to his home country without delay; a country carrying out one or another of its space projects bears full responsibility for any damage that may inadvertently cause other powers.