The ethical questions arising in the context of current and future space travel and exploration are as abundant as they are complex (Schwartz and Milligan 2016). This is owing to both the increasing number of technological possibilities opening opportunities for human exploration and exploitation of space, other planets and asteroids in addition to the myriad of relevant scientific and ethical factors that remain unknown about these activities.
Much of the literature focusing on an ethics of space exploration has attempted to apply and analyse the traditional (Western) ethical theories of deontology, consequentialism and virtue theory to the context of space travel and exploration, and then discuss which of these theories would be the most appropriate ethical guide for human activities in space (e.g. McArthur and Boran 2004, Arnauld 2011, Green 2014).
These discussions are invaluable, not because they provide a concrete ethical guide to follow, but because they do not. Understanding ethical theories is only the first step in cultivating an ethic of personal responsibility that focuses on: a) questioning the nature of ethical values, and, b) questioning one’s abilities to act ethically especially in the context of significant unknowns. Cultivating personal responsibility as it is here described is critical for stakeholders involved in current and future human activities in space.