Representing Xenovia, the Leiden team took full responsibility for the explosion but said their client repossessed Candidia’s satellite in full accordance with the Outer Space Treaty. Having given notice to the Candidian company that it was late on payments, they argued, the Xenovian creditor had satisfied the treaty’s requirement for “appropriate international consultations.”

Katsande felt as if she was hearing a rough version of her own winning argument thrown back at her. After about 15 minutes of deliberation, the panel of three judges had their decision: They found in favor of Xenovia, which meant that Leiden had won. Katsande felt the European team had been given more time to speak. But what she also thought was, “We picked the wrong side.”

Once the competition was over for the Midlands team, Coach Moyo took the group to McDonald’s. Then the students went to a presentation about ZimSat-1. The coach, who had been drawing frequent basketball analogies throughout the trip, remembered a quote from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “You can’t win unless you learn how to lose.”

Even so, the team had come incredibly far since the days when they were nonchalant about the competition and indifferent to space. “We really wanted to win,” Katsande told me. “I don’t think you understand how much we wanted to win.”

At 3 pm on September 20, the Midlands team filed into the Maison des Océans, a building commissioned over a century ago to house ocean preservation organizations, to watch the final round of the 2022 Manfred Lachs competition. They found their places in a 500-person amphitheater with sea-blue seats, surrounded by depictions of whale hunting. Once again arguing the case of Xenovia, the Leiden team went on to win the world championship.

Also there that day was Edythe Weeks, an adjunct professor at Washington University in St. Louis who believes that, as a Black woman, she was called by God to study and teach space law. She remembers attending space law gatherings in the early 2000s when virtually everyone there was a European man.

Around the same time, Weeks wrote a PhD dissertation that explored the origins of the Outer Space Treaty’s “province of mankind” clause—how it served as a somewhat hazy, conveniently ill-defined substitute for legal language that might have placed more explicit limits and obligations on its signatories. Space law has a beautiful set of origins and aspirations, Weeks says, but there are ways monied interests could exploit that vagueness to crowd low Earth orbit.

Above all, though, Weeks’ work in space law has taught her that people cannot appreciate something—let alone begin to fight for it—if they don’t know it belongs to them.

The Midlands students had, if nothing else, heard that message loud and clear. To be African, Mujegu says, is to be touched by colonialism—but it’s also to be a rightful inheritor of space. When she started law school, Mujegu wanted to enter ordinary private practice after graduation. But if she were given the chance to practice space law, she “would take that opportunity and run with it,” she says.

Mujegu’s chance probably won’t come right away. There are still barely any jobs in space law on the continent, as many African space agencies are just getting off the ground. But off the ground, in the relatively near future, is exactly where they’re going. “It’s a whole new world that I didn’t know existed,” Mujegu says. “When I discovered it, I felt like, Why aren’t more people talking about this? I want to be a part of this for the rest of my life.”

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