Space May Not Be Very Accessible, But SpaceX’s Photos Will Be

The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft launch at Cape Canaveral on April 18, 2014.

Image by SpaceX

Space feels like an endless frontier, but distinctly human considerations inevitably encroach on our musings over its vastness. Can people own land on the moon? Can we harvest hydrocarbons on Titan? And who should own images of space? Because NASA is a government agency, the images it collects belong in the public domain (except for some contractor photos, though they’re still released under a Creative Commons license). The goal is to allow people to easily share and adapt space content. And now SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space-transport company, has begun posting photos in a Flickr album under the Creative Commons license.

The decision follows pressure for SpaceX to observe the tradition of releasing openly accessible space photos. The Flickr album says “some rights reserved,” and indicates that anyone can distribute or modify the photos so long as they credit SpaceX and aren’t using the photos commercially. The company’s Flickr homepage says, “These official SpaceX images are being made available for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use by the public.”

As more private companies enter the space industry, this could be a valuable precedent. As the Atlantic notes, other space companies like Orbital Sciences and Lockheed Martin have their Flickr photos set to “all rights reserved.”

SpaceX’s decision to list its photos as “some rights reserved” means that they aren’t as limitlessly usable as NASA photos. But it’s a step in the right direction. As huge as space is, most people don’t have a lot of access to it. They should at least be able to learn from and enjoy the photos.