An artist’s conception shows astronauts conducting a mission on the moon. (NASA Illustration)
An artist’s conception shows astronauts conducting a mission on the moon. (NASA Illustration)

NASA today unveiled a list of 10 principles for a set of bilateral international agreements for participation in the moon exploration program known as Artemis.

The Artemis Accords would apply to missions aimed at sending astronauts to the lunar surface beginning as early as 2024.

NASA has been discussing international participation in the Artemis moon program for months. During a conference last October, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said “we need all the international partners to go with us to the moon.”

The first moonwalkers are virtually certain to be Americans, but at October’s International Astronautical Congress, Bridenstine implied that astronauts from other countries would get their chance based on the “levels of contribution” to the effort.

Today, Bridenstine said in a tweet that bilateral agreements would “establish a shared vision and a set of principles for all international partners that join in humanity’s return to the moon.”

“It’s a new dawn for space exploration!” he tweeted.

The 10 principles are:

  • Peaceful purposes: All activities will be conducted for peaceful purposes in accordance with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

  • Transparency: Partner nations will be required to describe their own policies and plans in a transparent manner.

  • Interoperability: Partner nations should use open standards for system interoperability and develop new standards when necessary.

  • Emergency assistance: Partner nations must commit to take all reasonable steps to assist astronauts in distress.

  • Registration of space objects: Partner nations should adhere to the Registration Convention on identifying their space objects.

  • Release of scientific data: Partner nations should follow NASA’s example and openly share scientific data from Artemis missions.

  • Protecting heritage: NASA and its partners will commit to protecting sites and artifacts on the moon that have historical value.

  • Space resources: The accords will reinforce the view that resources on the moon, Mars and asteroids can be extracted and used.

  • Deconfliction of activities: Partner nations will provide public information about their operations that will inform the scale and scope of “safety zones” created to prevent harmful interference.

  • Orbital debris and spacecraft disposal: Partner nations will agree to follow U.N. guidelines on mitigating orbital debris.

Bilateral agreements incorporating the principles are being discussed with potential partners, but no agreements have yet been struck.

Space News quoted Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations, as saying that the bilateral agreements would not cover activities relating to the Gateway, an outpost that NASA and its partners plan to assemble in lunar orbit.  Gateway operations would instead be handled through an extension of the intergovernmental agreement for the International Space Station.

Bridenstine and other NASA executives have said the initial Artemis missions aren’t likely to make use of the Gateway.

Partners in the space station project already have been discussing their potential roles on the Gateway — and those discussions are presumably being extended to Artemis as well. However, space agency officials in Russia, NASA’s most important partner on the space station, have criticized the Artemis Accords approach.

“The principle of invasion is the same, whether it be the moon or Iraq: A ‘coalition of the willing’ is created, and then, bypassing the U.N. and even NATO if anyone is doubtful, it’s onward to the goal,” Roscosmos’ director general, Dmitry Rogozin, complained last week in a tweet. “But this will result only in a new Iraq or Afghanistan.”

ESA has its own vision for international cooperation on lunar missions, known as the Moon Village concept. Meanwhile, an organization known as the Open Lunar Foundation has proposed a $5 billion public-private plan for moon settlement.

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