Hello, my name is Bailey Fischer-Columbo and I am a student at The George Washington University. Today is August 27, 2020 and I am interviewing Professor Humphries from for the 2015 NASA Astrobiology debates. The topic we will be discussing resolved, an overriding ethical obligation to protect and preserve extraterrestrial microbial life and ecosystems should be incorporated into international law. Thank you Professor Humphries for participating in this debate series and taking the time to do this interview today. How are you?
I am very good.
Could you introduce your personal and professional background as it relates to this topic?
I am a professor at the University of Virginia. I participated in the Library of Congress, NASA seminar on astrobiology this spring. There I had adequate exposure. My main area is logic.
Given your background and your work with NASA what are arguments do you foresee to be popular?
I think a good place to start is with the topic question, the word overriding. As we want to protect lives we need to take reasonable steps to make sure we protect the environment and this may clash with preserving and exploiting resources. There are two extremes to leave things untouched or to exploit them I do not like the word overriding.
Do you think there are practical ways to explore extraterrestrial life?
That is interesting, this topic was set up to give scientists centuries to set up rovers and send them to Mars and that seems to be alright with Tagen (sp). But after that the recommendation is to move on. Of course there could be a disturbance on Mars already with explorer vehicles roving around -- so that seems a little self serving. If for ex pharmaceutical company were to go back and see if organisms died in research this will be bad too.
Do we have moral obligations to future generations to protect microbial life?
It is hard to predict what future generations of humans are going to want if you think about people in a century it will be very hard to imagine what people want besides the basic needs. so when legal framework is in place it will be appear to be a problem. To change anything it will requires us to predict our generation which is incredible generations.
Does microbial life have MO to be protected?
Well, no. We do not attribute it moral standing at the moment we differentiate between micro organisms we need and do not and eradicate those we do not for example in hospitals. There is a point on the biological scale when we think that moral obligation ends. But it generally is not attributed to viruses and other things of that scale.
Do you think developing space law is inevitable and should it be proactive or create law as we go.
Definitely, I think it could model Antarctica where there is an international agreement that it be left not completely alone but not exploited for commercial purposes. which I think is operating very well. We have not left Antarctica completely alone but something that strikes m is, imagine someone who wants to explore Mars, wants to hike, it would seem extreme to ban them from doing this. There are precedents there and we have found some balance in Antarctica.
If we went off the antarctic model to balance allowing access, who would create these laws?
I doubt but a few people would want a free for all. There should be proactive approach to it. One thing to keep in mind is there are private enterprise missions that are present and NASA will probably have a lot of missions to Mars. So the framework will problems have to be developed between gov’t space agencies and private enterprises.
What are the consequence of including, or not, a morality clause in space law?
Legislative gravity is complicated, I am not suggesting one way or other. Moral codes differ around the globe though. We should not go into this thinking morality being the framework in the western world are the best way.
How would you define ethical obligation?
I am not myself persuaded that all life deserves ethical protection. Certainly I think we have these to animals, but to inanimate objects, that is hard. There are reasons to want to preserve certain terrestrial sites such as national parks.
Why are you not convinced they do not have intrinsic value?
Well, I did not say that. For example, I love Yosemite Valley, but the idea that it has intrinsic value makes sense it is what it is. if humans said intrinsic values are appropriates that one gets into the position that their abstract values are absolute.
Do you think one side of the debate has a stronger side?
It is a matter of finding the balance between viewing Mars as a museum and visiting it and protecting it. Protect and preserve - a reason to protect is different that preserving.
I think these debates are a wonderful idea and an important topic. Thinking in a reverse perspective in a planet where nothing has happened and you asked what we could do - i think that could inform what we do back at earth where we have made mistakes. I
If we took a different approach in space would it affect inter state relations on earth?
One hopes that it would, but most of the human species does not act morally. With the legal framework one make create a better policy but it may not be successful.