Public domain Space-X images: Launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft

All photos: SpaceX/Flickr

Due to the vast amount of money and infrastructure involved, space exploration has long been the exclusive domain of world governments. However, in recent years we've seen a flurry of privately funded space travel ventures sprouting up. The most notable being Elon Musk's SpaceX, the first company to fund and successfully send a non-governmental spacecraft to the International Space Station. The company's semi-reusable aerospace vehicle, dubbed Dragon, was contracted by NASA to deliver resupply cargo to the ISS in May 2012.

As space exploration continues to make a gradual shift to these kinds of public-private collaborations, it raises plenty of questions about how things will work. Here's one that may seem like a tiny detail, but it's relevant: What does it mean for copyright law?

As a governmental entity, images and video taken by NASA are available under public domain, which means anyone can use them for free for any reason, without credit. When you toss a private company like SpaceX into the mix, the legal implications become much murkier. Writer Jason Koebler explored this ambiguity in a recent Motherboard article, "When SpaceX Takes Photos on a NASA Mission, Copyright Law Explodes."

SpaceX considered this quandary and decided to upload more than 100 images on Flickr, listing them under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license, which means people are free to share and adapt the images for non-commercial purposes as long as appropriate credit is given.

That's exciting news in itself, but it doesn't stop there. Following Musk's announcement of this news on Twitter, one astute tweeter responded:

Of course, Flickr doesn't technically allow images to be listed as public domain; the closest thing is the CC BY 2.0 license, which allows people to freely share and adapt images (even for commercial purposes) so long as proper credit is given. This license is what the SpaceX photos are currently listed under. For the images to be officially listed under public domain on Flickr, they would need to be registered with the Flickr Commons.

Technicality aside, the brief conversation between Musk and @Pandoomic was widely celebrated online:

Continue below for a look at a few of the newly released images, and be sure to check out the collection on the SpaceX Flickr account.

Public domain Space-X images: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft
Public domain Space-X images: Crew Dragon seats
Public domain Space-X images: SpaceX'S Falcon 9 rocket launch
Public domain Space-X images: Dragon's return to Earth
Public domain Space-X images: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft launched from Launch Complex 40
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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.