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The Rescue Treaty of 1968

The Rescue Treaty of 1968

The Rescue Treaty of 1968 is among the several developments in the aviation industry that have emerged over time aimed at improving global operations in the sector and enhancing safety. Also referred to as the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Rescue Treaty of 1968 was an agreement drafted in 1967 by the United Nations Committee regarding the peaceful use of outer space. The treaty was passed anonymously through voting by 115 voters. It was signed and entered into action on December 3, 1968. Factions under this Agreement agreed on essential measures to rescue and help astronauts handle distress and return to their launching States promptly upon request. They also concluded to collaborate in aiding space object recovery even when found items are outside the territory of the Launching State. By January 2019, 98 states had ratified the Agreement, a sign the treaty had become acceptable, and many parties were ready to use it. While The Rescue Treaty of 1968 has largely been successful and effective since it was signed, it has experienced challenges and obstacles that have denied it a chance to serve its objectives fully. The research paper focuses on the legal problems and loopholes of The Rescue Treaty of 1968, and it further suggests a course of action and recommendations for a better aviation industry.

Issues in the Realm of Aviation (related to the treaty)

The realm of aviation, especially space aviation, is highly dynamic and complex and involves significant issues. Astronauts are vulnerable to experiencing space radiation, isolation and confinement, the variance of gravity, and a hostile environment that imposes huge risks to space objects. Being millions of miles from Earth is another aspect that may instigate communication delays, equipment failures, and medical problems. Other issues in the realm of aviation include space dust, collisions, incorrect orbit, and internal issues. With such dangers, factions in this sector have to find countermeasures to survive and fill gaps in their operations.

The Rescue Treaty of 1968 was introduced as a way to handle some of the stressful issues, such as space object accidents and unintended or unsafe landings, which are significant and sensible in the realm of aviation. This treaty “provides that States shall take all possible steps to rescue and assist astronauts in distress and promptly return them to the Launching State and that States shall, upon request, provide assistance to the Launching States in recovering space objects that return to Earth outside the territory of the Launching State,” (Montagnon, 2019). Despite such noble objectives, legal problems encountered this treaty immensely. Even so, very few studies have unearthed this issue comprehensively, thus leaving a significant research gap or concern that this research paper tries to fill.

Several legal loopholes and problems are related to The Rescue Treaty of 1968. Firstly, the Agreement’s ambiguity affects its coverage, scope, and applicability. For instance, the treaty’s provisions do not clearly explain who the specific person to be rescued, returned, or assisted is (Gorove, 1969). They also lack clarity on mandatory conditions that responsible factions have to consider to apply the Agreement. Another instance is the use of terms such as “astronauts” and “personnel” that generally entail trained people engaged in spacecraft but seem not to include those accompanying the spacecraft, such as physicians, tourists, and passengers on space missions (Avveduto, 2019; Gorove, 1969). Despite such ambiguities, legal authorities have not made a significant effort to clarify the unclear matters and define who is to be rescued, assisted, or returned and under what conditions the treaty is applicable, hence making this Agreement less effective.

Secondly, the Agreement is somehow silent on unintended landings or types of accidents that spacecraft must have undergone to be rescued, returned, or assisted. The treaty does not clearly define conditions of distress or forms of emergencies that one must experience to receive help via its provisions (Gorove, 1969). Article 2 of The Rescue Treaty of 1968 explains that landing must arise from distress, accident, or an emergency (United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, n.d.). While that is significantly specific and clear, it is still complicated to tell the type of distress or emergency that is approvable to have prompted the problem. Questions arise when differences emerge in interpreting whether the landing was intentional or unintentional. For instance, spacecraft may land on a territory intentionally and without any accidental issues; still, strict signatories may misinterpret the scenario, therefore demanding a speedy return as a way of following the treaty. Thus, the problems of unintended landings and accidents remain problematic even though they are the primary element of this Agreement.

Lastly, a legal problem appears when a duty arises in some of The Rescue Treaty of 1968 contracting parties’ jurisdictions who are the signatories of this Agreement. Notably, this treaty requires involved factions to take “all possible measures” to rescue personnel involved in spacecraft accidents and render “all necessary” help to them (Gorove, 1969). Nonetheless, this obligation is only a requirement if the troublesome landing in question occurred in an area or territory that is part of such parties’ jurisdiction. Signatories that handle incidents that happen on high seas or areas that are not under any state’s jurisdiction are addressed through “extended assistance,” which may not ensure speedy rescue (Gorove, 1969). Although such provisions are explicit, there is a lack of a judicial body to determine what is “all necessary impartially” and “all possible” in a rescue mission (Gorove, 1969). This issue brings legal conflict between the launching state and the state responsible for offering assistance. Again, there is no amicable disposition to address disputes and assess the effectiveness of the measures applied. Indeed, the lack of controlling authority makes it difficult for rescue operations on high seas and other areas that are considered not part of the signatories’ jurisdiction.

The course of Action to Solve the Problem

Several actions can help solve the legal problems associated with The Rescue Treaty of 1968. First and foremost, in collaboration with legal experts, the signatory states under this Agreement can revise the Agreement thoroughly to address the present ambiguities. These factions should define the spacecraft personnel and astronaut to be rescued, assisted, or returned. They should also vividly describe the types of accidents, emergencies, and distress that have to be considered before initiating a rescue mission.

Another possible course of action is to be loud in explaining conditions that have to occur for landings to be considered intentional or unintentional. There should be no confusion when deciding the speedy return of spacecraft that happen to land in another territory under signatory states’ jurisdiction. Again, the involved factions should clearly outline the type of aid to offer when a duty arises on high seas and areas considered part of jurisdictions under this Agreement. These parties should clearly explain what “all possible,” “all necessary,” and “extended” assistance mean in rescue missions.

Moreover, there is a need for states under this Agreement to establish a controlling or regulatory body or authority to ensure that each member fully implements what is required in spacecraft rescue missions. This move would ensure that states under this Agreement act responsibly and promptly whenever a spacecraft lands unintentionally. Such a course of action would significantly address the legal issues facing The Rescue Treaty of 1968.

Conclusion and Recommendations

To sum up, there is no doubt that The Rescue Treaty of 1968 is an essential development in the aviation industry, but significant legal issues encounter this Agreement, limiting its effectiveness. This treaty was a positive move towards the rescue of astronauts and returning space objects. Nevertheless, it lacks clarity on some of its provisions. In specific, it does not clearly define the astronauts or personnel to be rescued, helped, or assisted. The treaty also fails to explain the type of accidents, emergencies, or distress that must have occurred for parties to offer all possible and necessary aid. The Rescue Treaty of 1968 faces legal problems when a duty arises in different territories and on the high seas. It is also difficult to define the “all possible” and “all necessary” measures that states must offer to rescue, assist, and return spacecraft to their launching state. The lack of a controlling body for the implementation of this treaty remains a crucial problem. Signatory states must take a practical course of action to address these issues and realize a positive outcome. They must address all the controversial concerns and shed light on aspects that appear unclear or ambiguous. These factions should consider having controlling authority to keep every spacecraft rescue mission in check and ensure that the charged state provides all possible and necessary assistance. The last recommendation is to keep updating this treaty to include new provisions and obligations to handle emerging issues. Such improvements could help address spacecraft accident scenarios and improve The Rescue Treaty of 1968’s effectiveness and possible outcome.


Avveduto, R. (2019). Past, present, and future of intellectual property in space: Old answers to new questions. Washington International Law Journal Association, 29(1), 203-246.

Gorove, S. (1969). Legal problems of the rescue and return of astronauts. International Lawyer3(4), 898-902.

Matignon, L. G. (2019, April 6). The Rescue Agreement of 1968. Space Legal Issues.

United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. (n.d.). 2345 (XXII). Agreement on the rescue of astronauts, the return of astronauts, and the return of objects launched into outer space


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The Rescue Treaty of 1968

The Rescue Treaty of 1968

For your approved topic submitted in 2.4 Research Paper: Topic Selection, write a paper of 4-5 pages, excluding the cover page, charts, tables, graphs, diagrams, photographs, reference page, and appendix, in accordance with APA standards using the current edition. Refer to the rubric for grading. Save your assignment using a naming convention that includes your first and last name and the activity number (or description). Do not add punctuation or special characters.

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