On this day in 1961, the 16th session of the United Nations General Assembly (all members) unanimously adopted resolution number 1721. Thus formed the first formal international consensus regarding the peaceful use of outer space!
Timeline for context:
🕊️ October 4, 1957 – USSR launches Sputnik (1st ever satellite)
🕊️ January 31, 1958 – USA launches Explorer I (1st US satellite)
🕊️ December 12, 1959 – UN creates an Ad Hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Nothing much happens with this for a few years because politics
🕊️ September 25, 1961 – President Kennedy speaks at the UN. He implores the disarmament of nuclear weapons and the reservation of space for peaceful use. He got us one of these, so there’s that. 🙂
🕊️ December 20, 1961 – Resolution 1721 is adopted by the UN. In 1967, the ideas would be expanded and codified into the Outer Space Treaty. One big addition to the Treaty would be the agreement not to stage nuclear weapons in space.
Resolution 1721’s two biggest ideas were 1. Affirming that international law applies in Outer Space and 2. Affirming that space and celestial bodies are “free for exploration” and “not subject to appropriation.” That means you can’t call dibs on the Moon just because you stick a flag there first*. 🌚🇺🇲 (This applies regardless of how many Moon rocks you lick. 😂)
The resolution also asked UN members to give each other a heads up before launching things into orbit, to share scientific information (on a “voluntary basis”), and to work together on satellite weather research and communications networks.
* incidentally, the Soviets were the first to deliver “pennants” to the Moon, all the way back in 1959. Part of their Luna 2 lander, shaped like a soccer ball, was designed to break apart into a ton of metal pieces stamped with the emblem of the USSR. You may not have learned this in school (I didn’t), but the Soviets were arguably pretty far ahead of the US in the very earliest days of the space race. However, that didn’t last. 🙂
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