MAY 5, 2020–As reported earlier today by Reuters, the U.S. government is in the process of drafting what is now known as the ‘Artemis Accords’, an international legal basis for moon mining.
According to Reuters, “the agreement would be the latest effort to cultivate allies around NASA’s plan to put humans and space stations around the moon.” Artemis and the Gateway are in need of international support, and while many elements are already international, more co-operation will help the Artemis program last as a multi-national effort through the next election cycles.
The Artemis Accords propose things such as “safety zones”, areas around future moon bases that would prevent rival countries or companies operating in close proximity. Reuters’ sources also say that the pact aims to “provide a framework under international law for companies to own the resources they mine.”
In the next month, the U.S. is planning to formally negotiate the Artemis Accords with its space partners such as Canada, Japan, and ESA’s member states, and more. However, Russia won’t be an “early partner”, as the U.S. government is increasingly viewing Moscow as “hostile for making “threatening” maneuvers towards U.S. spy satellites in Earth orbit.”
There is controversy on whether the “safety zones” qualify under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. The Treaty states that celestial bodies, including the Moon, are “not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”
A Reuters source said that “This isn’t some territorial claim, the idea is if you are going to be coming near someone’s operations, and they’ve declared safety zones around it, then you need to reach out to them in advance, consult, and figure out how you can do that safely for everyone.”
By this logic, the “safety zones” would probably be comparable to claims on Antarctica. For context, there are many Antarctic claims, mostly overlapping, but scarcely recognized.
An important facet to remember of the Artemis project and NASA as a whole that it is also a “tool of diplomacy”, as Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator stated on Tuesday.
NASA has acted as a tool of diplomacy for a long time. Even through the midst of the Cold War, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project united Americans and Russians in space. Through the past two decades, the International Space Station has united the rest of the world in spaceflight too.
Gateway serves to extend that unity to the Moon, bringing international partners with NASA. The Artemis program is an extension of that unity too. Building a sustainable presence on the Moon can not be done in the name of a nation, nor a company.
It should be done in the name of humanity.