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Antarctica and Outer Space UPSC NOTE



  • The Antarctic is a polar region around Earth's South Pole, opposite the Arctic region around the North Pole.

  • The Antarctic comprises the continent of Antarctica, the Kerguelen Plateau, and other island territories located on the Antarctic Plate or south of the Antarctic Convergence. 

  • The region covers some 20 percent of the Southern Hemisphere, of which 5.5 percent (14 million km2) is the surface area of the Antarctica continent itself. 

  • All of the land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude are administered under the Antarctic Treaty System. 

  • Biogeographically, the Antarctic realm is one of eight biogeographic realms on Earth's land surface.

Queen Maud Land

Queen Maud Land

  • Queen Maud Land (Norwegian: Dronning Maud Land) is a roughly 2.7-million-square-kilometre region of Antarctica claimed by Norway as a dependent territory.

  • It borders the claimed British Antarctic Territory 20° west and the Australian Antarctic Territory 45° east. 

  • It was expanded in 2015, by annexing a small unclaimed area from 1939.

  • Positioned in East Antarctica, it makes out about one-fifth of the continent, and is named after the Norwegian queen Maud of Wales.

  • On 14 January 1939, the territory was claimed by Norway. 

  • On 23 June 1961, Queen Maud Land became part of the Antarctic Treaty System, making it a demilitarised zone. 

  • It is one of two Antarctic claims made by Norway, the other being Peter I Island. 

Antarctic Treaty

Antarctic Treaty


  • Antarctica is the only continent on Earth with no human population. 

  • After the end of the Second World War, the United States of America sent military expeditionary forces to Antarctica, intending to establish a claim over it. 

  • Six other nations also joined the fight for a claim over Antarctica’s sovereignty.

  • In 1957, twelve countries set up scientific bases to conduct investigations about the continent, thus heightening tensions surrounding Antarctica.

  • Amidst growing tensions surrounding the claim of sovereignty over Antarctica, the presence of scientific bases of twelve countries on the continent, and the looming fear of an upcoming Cold War, an Antarctic Conference was convened by President Dwight Eisenhower (USA). 

  • After meeting and negotiating in two phases between 1958 and 1959, the Antarctic Treaty was formulated on 1st December 1959.


  • The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 provided that Antarctica could only be used for the peaceful purpose of scientific investigation. 

  • It seeks to preserve Antarctica forever by prohibiting military activity, nuclear explosions, and radioactive waste disposals. 

Area covered:

  • The Antarctic Treaty is applicable to the area south of the 60° South Latitude, including all ice shelves and islands. 

Year at which the treaty entered into force:

  • The Antarctic Treaty was signed between 12 countries in Washington in 1959.

  • The Treaty entered into force in 1961 and is therefore also referred to as the Antarctic Treaty of 1961.


  • The Antarctic Treaty was signed between 12 countries in Washington in 1959.

    • Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the USSR, the UK, and the US.

  • Currently it has 54 members. 

  • India became a member of this treaty in 1983.


  • The Antarctic Treaty put in place some rules for the use of the resources in the region and the conduct.

  • Antarctica is to be demilitarised and used for peaceful purposes only. 

  • No military personnel can be stationed, and military weapons cannot be tested on the continent.

  • Scientific research and collaboration can be carried out, and the findings are to be made freely available to signatories of the Treaty.

  • Any territorial claims over Antarctic territory are put on hold while the Treaty remains in force.

  • No nuclear testing can be carried out in Antarctica or any radioactive waste dumped on it.

  • The Treaty only applies to ice shelves and land, not the sea.

  • All signatories must provide information about expeditions, ship movements, or military movements taken to Antarctica, and designated inspectors can carry out inspections regarding the same.

  • Mining of mineral resources except for the purpose of scientific research is prohibited.

  • The continent’s environment, flora, and fauna are not to be harmed.

Moon Agreement

Moon Agreement

  • The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,better known as the Moon Treaty or Moon Agreement.

  • It is a multilateral treaty that turns jurisdiction of all celestial bodies (including the orbits around such bodies) over to the participant countries. 

  • Thus, all activities would conform to international law, including the United Nations Charter.

  • The Agreement was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979.

  • The Agreement reaffirms and elaborates on many of the provisions of the Outer Space Treaty as applied to the Moon and other celestial bodies, providing that those bodies should be used exclusively for peaceful purposes, that their environments should not be disrupted.

  • United Nations should be informed of the location and purpose of any station established on those bodies.

  • The Agreement provides that the Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind and that an international regime should be established to govern the exploitation of such resources when such exploitation is about to become feasible.

Signatories and Parties to the treaty:

  • It has not been ratified by any state that engages in self-launched human spaceflight (e.g. the United States, Russia (or its predecessor the Soviet Union), or the People's Republic of China) since its creation in 1979, and thus it has little to no relevance in international law.

  • As of January 2022, 4 signatories and 18 states are parties to the treaty.

  • India is a signatory to the treaty.

Important Provisions:

  • The treaty makes a declaration that the Moon should be used for the benefit of all states and all peoples of the international community.

  • It reiterates that lunar resources are "not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."

  • It also expresses a desire to prevent the Moon from becoming a source of international conflict.

  • Bans any military use of celestial bodies, including weapon testing, nuclear weapons in orbit, or military bases. 

  • The use of military personnel for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes shall not be prohibited.

  • Provides a framework of laws to establish an international cooperation regime, including appropriate procedures, to govern the responsible exploitation of natural resources of the Moon.

  • The placement of personnel or equipment on or below the surface shall not create a right of ownership. 

Comparison with outer space treaty

  • When compared with the Outer Space Treaty, it reiterates most provisions, and adds two new concepts in order to address the exploitation of natural resources in outer space: 

    • to apply the concept of 'common heritage of mankind' to outer space activities, and 

    • to have the participating countries produce a regime that lays the appropriate procedures for orderly mining.

  • Multiple conferences produced no consensus on these two items.


  • The Moon Treaty is incomplete and lacks an "implementation agreement" answering the unresolved issues, particularly regarding resource extraction.

  • The treaty proposes that the exploitation of resources shall be governed by an international regime, but there has been no consensus establishing these laws.

  • It was not signed by most countries.

  • The agreement has been described without fruition and possibly a failure if it remains ratified by few countries, particularly those active in space. 

  • Only one country (India) with independent spaceflight capabilities has signed (but not ratified) the treaty.

Steps to be taken by India for ethical and responsible conduct of nations in outer space

  • Pride and exhilaration over the Chandrayaan-3 achievement, entirely natural, must now be followed by a mature policy on the future of India’s earth-borne plans on the moon. 

  • To put it differently, as an earth-pioneer on the moon, India must, by precept and practice, set the pace for the earth’s agenda on the moon and of the moon’s future as a partner with the earth.

  • Consider the Moon as a partner, not as property. As a collaborator in science, not a colony in subjugation. 

  • The Moon Agreement must be taken to its next logical stage. 

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement — “The success of Chandrayaan 3 is not just India’s alone but it belongs to all of humanity” — was wise and responsible. 

  • Following up on that, he can now do the world’s space missions great service. 

  • He can do so now by taking the initiative to craft a declaration of the fundamental rights of outer space.

  • And thereby inaugurate a new ethics for human activity in outer space, including, very pointedly, the earth’s responsibilities towards outer space debris. 

  • This new ethic must make the non-militarisation of outer space a non-negotiable covenant. 

  • The Outer Space Treaty and Moon Agreement now need aligning not just with the latest advances in space missions but with a moral compass to the stars.

  • India cannot afford to be among those who may want to scramble for outer space hegemonies over what is not just the common heritage of humankind but that of a larger cosmos.



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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Antarctica and Outer Space UPSC NOTE
Antarctica and Outer Space UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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