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Eight nations, including U.S., sign accords for moon missions

ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 13 (UPI) — Eight nations have signed NASA’s new framework to govern lunar exploration missions, the agency’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, announced Tuesday.

By signing the agreement, the eight nations commit to peaceful activities on the moon and in travel to the moon.

Provisions in the Artemis Accords stipulate that nations, and private companies in those nations, will openly disclose plans for lunar missions, and mine resources on the moon in accordance with the international Outer Space Treaty that dates to 1967.

The accords also commit signing nations to render aid to other nations on the moon if necessary, to minimize space debris and to register all objects taken to the lunar surface.

In addition to the United States, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates and Britain signed the Artemis Accords.

“We are one human race and we are in this together. The Accords help us to work together to benefit all,” Sarah Al Amiri, chair of the United Arab Emirates Council of Scientists, said in a live broadcast Tuesday.

Bridenstine had said in a press conference Monday that more nations are expected to sign the accords this year, and that he hopes all nations eventually will.

“As NASA, we always try to be very transparent and what our plans and policies are, and we think it’s good for all nations to be transparent with their plans,” Bridenstine said.

The new agreement comes as NASA plans to return astronauts to the moon in 2024, with further plans to establish a lunar base to tap water ice for possible long-term habitation.

NASA officials on Monday acknowledged they didn’t approach all space-faring nations in drafting the accords because the agency wanted to move quickly. NASA sought a few nations believed to have common values, said Mike Gold, associate administrator for NASA’s Office of International and Interagency Relations.

“We wanted to begin with a group substantive and large enough to make an impact,” Gold said. “It’s very challenging to do that with too large a group. Now that the text of the accords have been finalized we can broaden the coalition.”

Bridenstine said NASA couldn’t approach China, which already has landed two robotic missions on the moon, because federal law prohibits negotiations with China.

When asked how the accords would be enforced, Bridenstine said the intent of the agreement is to pre-empt conflict by being transparent.

“If one of the participants chooses to disregard the guidance, other participants … ultimately could be asked to leave the Artemis program, but I would hope that they will come to a better resolution,” Bridenstine said.

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Tracy Caldwell Dyson pauses for a portrait in her spacesuit before going underwater in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on July 8, 2019. Photo by Bill Ingalls/UPI

U.S. and other nations sign Artemis Accords for moon missions

Artemis moon mission
An artist’s conception shows surface operations on the moon. (NASA Illustration)

Seven nations have signed up with the United States to participate in NASA’s Artemis effort to put astronauts on the moon by as early as 2024.

The Artemis Accords commit the signatories — including Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, Italy, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates as well as the U.S. — to observe a set of principles ranging from the interoperability of space hardware to the protection of heritage sites and space property rights.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and other international representatives announced the signing of the accords today in conjunction with this week’s International Astronautical Congress.

During a briefing with reporters, Bridenstine said the accords will serve as the “preamble of bilateral agreements between the United States and all of our international partners as we go sustainably to the moon with commercial and international partners.”

It’ll be up to each nation to ensure that commercial partners under its jurisdiction — such as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, for example — observe the requirements of the Artemis Accords. Just today, Blue Origin tested a guidance system that NASA aims to use on future lunar landers.

The signers of the accords will also be required to register the objects they’re sending into space and provide public notification about the location and nature of their operations, under a provision known as due regard.

If signatories don’t adhere to the accords and the follow-up bilateral agreements, they could be asked to leave the Artemis coalition, Bridenstine said. “There’s a lot of pressure that can be brought to bear,” he said, without going into specifics on the enforcement process.

Bridenstine described the agreement as a way to “operationalize” the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which governs international activities in space.

“The Outer Space Treaty is over 50 years old, but it doesn’t look a day over 35,” he joked today in a NASA webcast as the signings were announced. “The accords both reinforce and implement the obligations of the Outer Space Treaty. For the first time, we are establishing consequences for Outer Space Treaty compliance.”

The Artemis Accords don’t have the status associated with treaties — and they don’t require Senate ratification, as treaties do. Bridenstine explained that NASA made use of bilateral agreements with individual nations to accelerate the process of preparing for the first Artemis astronauts to land on the lunar surface in 2024.

“We have a mandate to go quickly, and at the same time bring on international and commercial partners,” he told GeekWire. “And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The agreements relating to moon landings are separate from the multilateral agreement that governs operations on the International Space Station — as well as a similar agreement that applies to the Gateway, a NASA-led project to build an outpost in lunar orbit.

Megan Clark, head of the Australian Space Agency, was part of a retinue of space officials who affirmed their governments’ support for the Artemis Accords