Visionaries had written about outer space for centuries but it was the Soviet Sputnik I launch in 1957, which marked the beginning of the space race. For more information regarding Sputnik I see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdSIuMWK4Ag&feature=fvst.
At this time, the international political environment was still freshly tempered by World War I and II. The reactions of the international community to the Sputnik launch were shaped by Cold War fears. Shortly after the launch, nation states immediately urged the United Nations to creat laws to govern the outer space territory. The UN created the Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) for the purpose of creating space law.
After nearly ten years of state negotiations, five international space law treaties and five declarations were enacted to provide the international community laws for outer space. During this period of time (1957-1967) the power politics was centered around the interests of three key actors: the United States, the Soviet Union, and a group of various states operating through the United Nations. The U.S. and U.S.S.R., two superpowers, constantly vied for alliances with other states in order to maximize their interests. To this extent, less powerful states had the power to exert their interests during the space law negotiations. This was the international power dynamic at the beginning of the space age.
Therefore, although the United States has had an interest in a free market direction for space activities, it had to consider the interests of the Soviet Union and other states. Early attempts were made by the U.S. to impose a free market direction to outer space development. Now that the Cold War has ended, globalization and free market ideology seem dominant, and new things are starting to happen regarding the outer space territory.
To learn more about space law go to the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs website at http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/oosa/en/SpaceLaw/index.html.
[i] Shortly after Sputnik was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, states pressed the United Nations to act in order to create laws to govern outer space. To this end, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) was set up by the General Assembly in 1959 via Resolution 1472 (XIV) “to review the scope of international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, to devise programmes in this field to be undertaken under United Nations auspices, to encourage continued research and the dissemination of information on outer space matters, and to study legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space”. The Committee and its two Subcommittees meet annually to consider questions put before them by the General Assembly, reports submitted to them and issues raised by the Member States. The COPUOS) and its two Subcommittees – the Scientific and Technical Subcommitte, and the Legal Subcommittee – on the basis of consensus, make recommendations to the General Assembly regarding rules conerning outer space. Another important actor is the International Institute of Space Law (IISL), founded by the International Astronautical Federationin 1960 to foster the development of space law. Although an earlier version of this organization had been created in 1958, this organization as it stands today began in 1960. Membership includes approximately 300 elected individuals and institutions from over 40 countries who are distinguished for their contributions to space law development. The IISL is authorized to function autonomously from the COPUOS and the IAF in accordance with its (the IISL) statutes. See http://www.iafastro-iisl.com. The International Astronautical Federation is the main umbrella organization for outer space development. It was established in 1951, prior to the Sputnik launch. Its members include government agencies, companies, associations and organization from 44 countries. It manages an annual Congress, workshops and networking activities for the various professionals, academics and others who work within the field of outer space development.