NASA would make signing the accords a requirement for allied countries to participate in its lunar exploration program. The proposal, some aspects of which were first reported by Reuters, would “in no way change the 1967 Outer Space Treaty,” which prohibits nations from laying claim to the moon and other celestial bodies, said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Rather, the series of principles would follow the tenets of the treaty and “promote peaceful purposes” that would allow nations “to participate safely in outer space,” Bridenstine said in an interview.
The accords already have run into resistance from the head of Russia’s space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, who called them an invasion that would lead to another “Iraq or Afghanistan.”
The introduction of the accords comes as NASA is pushing to meet a White House mandate to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972 under what it is calling the Artemis program. NASA is planning to establish a permanent presence in lunar orbit and on the surface. It is specifically interested in the moon’s south pole where there is water in the form of ice.
Still, NASA is hopeful that Russia, its longtime partner on the International Space Station, would be a signatory, Bridenstine said. The agreements are just being rolled out, he said, and NASA would work with Russia, as well as many other countries.
“We encourage Russia to be apart from the Artemis accords,” Bridenstine said. “And we think it would be good for all the world to agree to the right approach to peacefully explore space.”
China, which last year landed a rover on the far side of the moon, also wants to reach the lunar south pole. NASA must get congressional approval before partnering with China in space, and that would make their participation in the accords difficult. Bridenstine said NASA would “follow the law, 100 percent.” But he said that setting a standard of behavior could help influence the way countries operate in space even if they are not signatories.
Brian Weeden, the director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation and who had been briefed on the document, said the creation of safety zones around mining sites would not lead to nation’s claiming control of lunar territory. “These zones do not establish ownership,” he said. “It is more about establishing safety and coordination and that is really important.”
The size and scope of those sites would depend on the activity taking place, said Mike Gold, the acting associate administrator for NASA’s Office of International and Interagency Relations, who had a role in drafting the accords.
“We want to avoid conflict, we want to encourage communication,” Gold said. “It’s important for America to lead not just in technology but in policy, and that’s what the Artemis Accords are. It’s the U.S. laying out principals that will not only benefit NASA and its allies, but the whole world. ”
The agreements would require signatories to adhere to principles, laid out by the United States, that would help provide a framework for acceptable behavior in space.
Signatories would have to agree, for example, to help provide emergency assistance in the case of an injured astronaut. They would also agree to protect historic sites, such as the Apollo 11 landing area, and share scientific data.
“If you’re a country and you want to participate in the Artemis program back to the moon, this is the agreement you have to sign, ”Weeden said. “The U.S. is using these agreements to promulgate some specific norms of behavior with regard to space activity.”