LONDON (AP) – About 100 international experts meeting at the United Nations scientific organization Friday discussed creating a legal and ethical framework to guide the future exploration of space.

The Paris symposium – gathering scientists, legal experts and space agency executives – focused on such topics as the status of the astronaut, criminal conduct and other behavior on board spacecraft, and liability or insurance coverage, officials said.

“As much as everybody wants the space frontier to expand, the rules to govern this new era have yet to be set,” said Adigun Age Abiodun, chairman of the U.N. Committee for Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, a Vienna, Austria-based agency working on a legal framework for space exploration.

The role of astronauts – recognized as “envoys of mankind” in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty – is changing, noted Julien Tort, a program specialist for UNESCO in charge of organizing the event.

The geopolitical situation in space also has changed since the Cold War, and space increasingly is being used for commercial purposes, organizers said.

A rocket-plane made the first successful private suborbital space flight earlier this month, and the Virgin Galactic company announced it would offer public flights to space by 2008. Space agencies also are beginning to focus on the future exploration of Mars.

“We have no adequate rules to cover space tourism,” Abiodun said, or for “the future of space colonization, and we have to prepare the law for that.”

The U.N. space committee chairman also said he believed it was necessary for each country to write its “own national law” regulating activities in space.

“We are here to advance the debate, or rather to launch it,” Tort said.

UNESCO – the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – also is considering whether to create an outer-space ethical authority, Tort said.

NASA was invited but did not attend, Tort said. NASA was waiting to read the conclusions from the conference, spokesman Doc Mirelson said from agency headquarters in Washington.

“From our national perspective, the U.N. is a great vehicle, especially now that more countries have become spacefaring nations,” he said.

The conference, titled “Legal and Ethical Framework for Astronauts in Space Sojourns,” was organized by UNESCO, the space institute of the French Paris XI university and the European Space Agency, the European counterpart of NASA.

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