When Austin Waters began law school at UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, she joked she would be a space lawyer. She soon found, to her surprise, that space attorneys are a real thing.
“That’s just everything I wanted in life,” she said. “I had a telescope when I was little, and I’d stare at the sky. I wanted to be an astronomer or astrophysicist, but I’m very bad at math, so that didn’t work out so well.”
Instead, Waters earned a bachelor’s degree in literature and a minor in philosophy from State University of New York at Purchase. Then, she took a couple years off and worked various jobs, including a stint as a set assistant on “The Pioneer Woman” television show.
“I always knew I wanted to go back to school and thought I wanted to be a professor,” she said. “I also liked law as a subject.”
In 2015, Waters enrolled in Bowen’s part-time program — the state’s only part-time law program. As someone who likes to stay busy, Waters picked up the sport of ice skating while in law school. She practices four days a week and competes with the Diamond Edge Figure Skating Club of Little Rock.
“During my first year in law school, I was in a study group, and we joked about weird law we would get into,” Waters said. “I said I would be a space lawyer and go to moon.”
Since then, she has learned that space law is a new burgeoning field that provides a lot of opportunities to conduct research.
In October 2018, Waters received a stipend through the University of Nebraska to travel to the International Law Conference in New York City. The award was based, in part, on two space law papers Waters wrote for her international law class and the UA Little Rock Law Review.
The first paper discussed the legality of asteroid mining based on United Nations treaties made in the 1960s, which consider outer space the “common heritage of mankind.” Waters’ research indicates international law needs a clear framework if countries wish to encourage mining.
Her second paper discussed space debris mitigation and the legality of who may clean up debris from objects shot into space. Sometimes this debris can stay in space up to 10,000 years.
After she graduates in May, Waters plans to return to the East Coast where her mother and fiance’s family live. She hasn’t ruled out pursuing a Master of Laws in space law, but first she plans to pursue a master’s degree in library science.
“There’s not a direct path to be a space lawyer right now,” Waters said. “There are not a lot of opportunities, but as technologies progress they are opening up, not just in the public sector like NASA, but in the private sector as well.”
Top photo: Law school student Austin Waters researches space law. Photo by Benjamin Krain