Welcome back to another instalment of Spectacular Scientists… but this time although she has a STEM background, she isn’t a typical scientist- Lauren is studying to be a space lawyer! Just goes to show you don’t have to be an engineer to work in the space industry! The pandemic may have postponed her studies, but that has given her the chance to enter the world of science communication and educate us all on the wonders of Space Law. I knew a little about space law from my research into the Artemis Accords, but following her page (and hearing from her in this interview) has introduced me to so many new things!
J: So you are currently studying Space Law- what does that involve?
L: I’m actually not in law school yet! My plan is to write the LSAT in early 2022, apply for law school that fall, and start my first year of law school (1L) in 2023. I intend to do a combined JD (law) / MPP (policy) program with a concentration in international law. After that, I will pursue advanced degrees in order to specialize in space law.
J: What did you study at undergrad and how did you decide space law was for you?
L: I have two undergraduate degrees: A BSc in Applied Mathematics and a BSc in Anthropology with a specialization in Primatology. When I was an undergraduate student, I didn’t have a clear idea of which career I wanted to pursue, so I decided to focus on my interests instead. I started out in astrophysics, changed my major to physics, and then discovered that what I really wanted to learn more about was math! I took electives in classes that I knew very little about in order to expand my perspective of the world and ended up taking enough anthropology classes to do an entire second degree!
I’ve always been passionate about space, but because I didn’t want to be an astronaut or engineer, I didn’t think that there would be a place for me in the space industry. But, as more and more developments started happening in the commercialization of space, I started to learn about the laws and policies that frame space exploration. I started out reading news articles, then dove into reading source documents, then found myself ripping through textbooks. Very quickly, I realized that space law is the perfect way for me to use my logic and critical thinking skills to help ensure that space development happens in a way that maintains international peace and upholds the principle that outer space is “the province of all [hu]mankind” (Outer Space Treaty, A1). Developing an equitable, just, and fair international legal framework that is also effective and promotes the sustainable development of space will require teamwork on a scale that has never been seen before. And, in addition to my family, this is what I’m going to dedicate my life to.
J: How has studying STEM prepared you for studying law?
L: Oh my goodness — where do I begin?! Because of my degrees, I learned so many wonderful skills and super useful ways of thinking: Studying math taught me logical reasoning, optimization, efficiency, approximation, estimation, precision, creative thinking, problem manipulation, data management, and so, so much more. Studying anthropology taught me critical thinking, source evaluation, qualitative analysis, how to summarize and synthesize large amounts of qualitative information, the value of interdisciplinary collaboration, communication skills, referencing (keeping track of where knowledge comes from), and so, so much more. I feel like a lot of people think that STEM degrees and technical skills are only applicable in a limited and highly specialized way, but that’s simply not true. My STEM education has shaped how I learn, how I work, and the way I process information at a fundamental level and these skills will be 100% applicable throughout law school and my career.
J: What is the most exciting thing about space law?
L: How much work there needs to be done to modernize international space law, particularly with respect to space resource extraction, the commercialization of space, and the preservation/conservation of “celestial bodies.”
J: Have you always been interested in space/STEM?
L: Yes. I have always had a really broad range of interests, but since I was a child I’ve definitely been captivated by the idea of human space exploration and, particularly, human space settlement. I hope that I get to live long enough to know that there is a permanent human settlement on Mars.
J: Who were your inspirations growing up and who are they now?
L: Growing up my role models were female athletes, especially Leanne Pelosi, Domonique Vallée, Sara Burke, Gretchen Bleiler, Alexis Waite, and Roz Groenewoud.
In university, I was really inspired by my professors, especially Drs. Jean Springer, Elena Braverman, Yousry Elsabrouty, Thi Dinh, Mohammed Aiffa, Mary Pavelka, Suzanne Cote, Laura Anderson, and Lindsay McLaren.
Now my inspirations are the women from the space industry whom I have come to know through Instagram and numerous women who are working in space law and policy, especially Simonetta Di Pippo, Tanja Masson-Zwaan, Jessy Kate Schingler, and Almudena Azcárate Ortega, and emerging space lawyer Lauren Peterson.
I love your Instagram! What brought you to the world of science communication?
The pandemic! I had to put my law school plans on hold for another year and decided that I could either just wait, or I could share what I’ve been learning and hopefully get other people excited about space law, too!
J: I hadn’t heard much about space law until I started following you, is it a new field?
Space law is not a new field. It was first proposed as a legal category in 1926 and became an established field in 1958 when (1) the United Nations created the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and (2) the International Astronautical Federation established its Permanent Legal Committee, which later became the International Institute of Space Law. Even though this is not a new field, it is becoming more and more important because of the incredible developments that are happening in the space industry right now. For example, the US has passed several laws that are promoting the commercialization of space in a way that has never been seen before and several nations — including the U.S., the U.A.E., and Luxembourg — have passed domestic laws concerning space resource extraction. In the coming years and decades, I expect to see rapid development in space law and am really excited to be a part of it!
J: Do you have a favourite female space lawyer?
Definitely Tanja Masson-Zwaan! She is a giant in the field of space law: She was the President of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) from 2007-2016, at which time she was elected as the IISL’s President Emerita, which is a role that she still holds. In addition to this, she is the Deputy Director of Leiden University’s International Institute of Air and Space Law, advises the Dutch Government on the implementation of the Dutch Space Activities Act, and recently co-authored the 4th edition of Introduction to Space Law, which I highly recommend.
J: What kind of jobs are available for space lawyers?
Space lawyers frequently work in national space agencies, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, and academic and space law institutes like the ones that I have listed on my website. However, because of the push towards commercialization, I think we’ll see more space lawyers working for lobbying firms and private space companies.
Outside of STEM, what are your favourite things to do?
I love spending time with my husband and kids and being out in nature, doing a fun sport. I grew up near the Canadian Rockies, so the mountains are my happy place. I also love art, reading, yoga, pilates, and listening to great music.
I think I remember you saying you were a climber- what route are you most proud of sending?
Oh my goodness, I love climbing so much, but sadly haven’t been climbing outdoors since my babymoon when I was pregnant with my son. My style of climbing isn’t so much about sending, as it is about long, multi-pitch routes in a beautiful place. If I had to pick one favorite day, it would probably be… (oh gosh, so hard to pick!)… the Central Ice Bulge of Mt Fay in Alberta, though I did some spectacular climbs with my husband when we were on our honeymoon. For the record: my husband and I are recreational climbers and always hire a certified guide for “big” objectives.
Do you think space law and regulations in the industry will become tighter/more controlled, or more relaxed to allow for greater collaboration, over the next few years?
From what I’ve read, most space law experts acknowledge that current international space law is deficient in many ways, particularly with respect to notable gaps and lack of clarity. Some experts have even suggested that the Outer Space Treaty could be considered a form of soft law, which basically means that though it is technically considered legally binding, many of its articles are so vague that they cannot be enforced in any meaningful way. I think that it will eventually become necessary to develop a legal framework that is more clear-cut and includes some form of international governing or regulatory body.
What are you most looking forward to happening in the space industry (missions etc) in the next few years?
Oh my goodness, I am just SO THRILLED about the Artemis Program. Seeing humans go back to the Moon with the focus of extending mission durations in preparation for Mars is literally a dream come true.
If you could go to space, would you? Where would be your dream destination?
Yes! I would go! I’ve read so much about the Overview Effect and would love to experience it in person. Personally, I believe that space tourism is going to be huge (once it becomes more affordable, of course) and will help us to view the world as a place that is intrinsically interconnected instead of criss-crossed with dividing lines. If I could pick a dream destination, it would be the Moon, though I would be satisfied by just experiencing a microgravity environment!
What are your top tips for aspiring space lawyers/future STEM professionals?
Keep trying! One of my favorite quotes is from a children’s book called “Mae Among the Stars,” by Roda Ahmed that says: “If you dream it, if you believe it, and if you work hard for it, anything is possible.” So, no matter what happens, keep going.
Thank you so much Lauren!