Thanks to the Outer Space Treaty, which came into force on October 10, 1967, there are no nuclear weapons in outer space and no military bases on the moon. And every country is free to explore the cosmos for the benefit of all.

The treaty was agreed to at the height of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Both nations foresaw human expansion to the moon and beyond and wanted to prevent a short-sighted military or national competition. The treaty defines space as a shared human frontier whose exploration should be an avenue for international cooperation. Right now, 103 countries are parties to the treaty.

In addition to the demilitarization of space and the right of every country to participate in its exploration, the treaty holds that:

  • Nations may not make territorial claims over outer space.
  • The moon and other celestial bodies will be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
  • Astronauts are the envoys of all mankind.
  • Countries are responsible for their national space activities, whether carried out by governmental or nongovernmental entities.
  • Countries are liable for damage caused by their space objects.
  • Countries must avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.
Indian schoolchildren with  Mars Orbiter poster (AP Images)
Indian schoolchildren pose with a poster of their country’s Mars Orbiter, which is sending images of the planet back to Earth. (AP Images)

A good example of what the Outer Space Treaty has come to signify is the International Space Station, which has had a continuous human presence for nearly 14 years and has been visited by astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 different countries. Another example is the international effort to explore the planet Mars.