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  • La seconde chance d'Icare. Pour une éthique de l'Espace
  • Julien Knebusch
La seconde chance d'Icare. Pour une éthique de l'Espace by Jacques Arnould. Les Editions du Cerf, Paris, 2001. 230 pp. ISBN: 2-20406864-0.

Jacques Arnould is a Dominican priest, agricultural engineer, science historian and theologian. Presently he is in charge of a project on the ethical, social and cultural dimensions of space activities at the CNES (French National Center for Space Studies). La seconde chance d'Icare. Pour une éthique de l'Espace (Icarus's Second Chance: Towards an Ethics of Space) is the result of his current work at CNES related to space. The main theme of his earlier work turned on human development, which he studied from a scientific, historical and theological point of view. Icarus's Second Chance fills a primary need for information on these topics. Until now, space programs have been developed while largely ignoring philosophical and general societal issues. This book, which has been published with the collaboration of CNES, should also be considered as fitting into the new communication strategy of space agencies. While mainly aimed at the general public, its purpose is to democratize questions related to space and to make visible the reason for the existence of space agencies.

In the book's longest chapter, the author presents his analysis of different reasons—mythical, logical (war and knowledge) and practical (i.e. the usefulness of space)—for humanity's interest in space. Arnould reinterprets the myth of Icarus, and the story he tells is not so much the traditional moral that is usually drawn from the myth—that is, a warning against humanity's pride—but rather it is a reassessment and exploration of mankind's innate need to flee. Today, this myth is particularly relevant since a growing number of people (who subscribe to what is known as "the Space Option") consider space to be the primary means of resolving crises on earth in the long term.

Arnould summarizes some of the ethical questions related to space, such as the problem of pollution caused by space debris and the question of risk management by spacecraft companies, which came up after Challenger L51 exploded. He then goes on to examine legal issues and questions of the definition of space and its status within the world's heritage. The development of entrepreneurial activities in the field of space confronts us with questions related to its economic management (space is, of course, of a free-market nature), causing one to wonder how it would be organized and regulated. Arnould also raises the question of responsibility regarding space in relation to the development of globalization via satellite images and with the development of communication technologies. As a matter of consequence, this raises issues of electronic surveillance of the planet and issues of privacy and intellectual property. Finally, the author recalls the discussion raised in the field of astrobiology, i.e. management of risk of planetary contamination and the ethical problems related to terra-forming. Here, at last, he speaks to the place of man and his moral right to conquer and explore space.

Arnould does not seek to answer all the questions raised in these chapters, but rather presents them as guidelines for discussion. He thus recalls two main legal and moral principles, which could be applied to space work today—the principle of responsibility (formulated by Hans Jonas) and the more recent principle of precaution, which has been validated among the legal community. In the author's mind, these principles should not bring space work to a halt but, rather, such work should be pursued together with a clear awareness of the risks involved, which should be democratically accepted.

Such ethical questioning pertains, according to Arnould, to the continuation of a process of humanistic questioning that mainly aims to open humanity to its world and to concentrate the world in itself. Thus, humanism is today a "space humanism," as humanity evolves within the context of the expansion into space.

Until now, there has been no synthesis accessible to the general public of the ethical questions raised by space exploration. This is one of the important...


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pp. 451-452
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