What Are The Artemis Accords And Why Do We Need Them?

©NASA

Earthrise Over The Moon

NASA has formally announced the "Artemis Accords" - a series of principles and processes whereby America and other countries would agree to a common set of principles covering how the Moon is to be explored and its resources utilized. But what are these accords and why do we need them?

Given the renewed and expanded interest by many nations to explore the Moon this makes sense. There are two main issues involved here. One has to do with the common sense approaches that need to be made among multiple parties to ensure that things go smoothly. The other is the legalistic and diplomatic tedium that goes into international agreements.

I have been working in and around the space community here in Washington, DC in a variety of roles since the mid 1980s. During this third of a century I have heard arguments from "experts" ranging from the libertarian ultra-capitalistic crowd who says that anything they want to take in space is theirs if they can take it - to the globalistic-minded who say that everything in space belongs to everyone so no one can use it unless everyone everywhere agrees. Neither extreme is realistic or desirable. But here we are poised on a new rush back to the Moon and it is going to get crowded - fast. Someone needs to find a way to set forth some basic principles. That is what NASA is trying to do with the Artemis Accords.

No matter what I write here every one of these 'experts' is going to disagree with me and point out my lack of understanding of international law. I have had jobs in and around NASA ranging from overt science to hardware design and programmatic and mission planning. I have been on expeditions to remote, dangerous places for long periods of time. It is within that context that I am going to dive into the Artemis Accords.

Let's Start From The Beginning

In the 1960s only two countries tried to go to the Moon. Both landed robots. One nation managed to send humans there. While the Soviet program was transparent to the extent that they crowed about their successes after the fact and made no mention of failures the US was more or less transparent as to what they were doing - good, bad, and in between. These choices were rooted in the overriding sociocultural aspects of the competing political philosophies that powered these two nations.

Flash forward half a century and we live in a world with a dizzying mix of globalism and nationalism with a plethora of unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral agreements and treaties. And instead of only two nations wanting to go to the Moon there are a dozen nations and pan-national space agencies who are planning to go. And there are billionaires who are planning their own self-funded plans independent of nations. During the Cold War the efforts by the US and USSR were propelled by ultra-polarized politics of one on one competition. Now it is vastly more complicated.

So, to riff on a line from a song from my youth in the 60s, "Everyone (wants to go) to the Moon". How do we do this without bumping into one another?

Before we get into the details of what makes up the Artemis Accords lets get to the heart of the matter: There are existing treaties - some of which the US is a signatory, and others they are not - that would seem to prevent or strongly hinder any activity on the Moon (or elsewhere) that involved any commercial entity or resource utilization. It has been a half a century since Apollo and to date only sporadic robotic missions have visited. Now the interest is being dialed up to do all manner of things above and on the lunar surface. To date everyone has gotten along since these missions have been scientific, usually involve multiple countries, and result in a lot of open data sharing. That is about to change.

Around the time that the exploration of space began the exploration of Antarctica was starting to increase. Most of it was scientific but there was a fair amount of commercial or mineral exploitation interest. In a nutshell treaties were put in place that facilitated the peaceful use of Antarctica including provisions that ensure that everyone helped everyone else when emergencies arose, put all territorial claims on hold, and prohibited any commercial resource exploitation. Half a century later and it all seems to be working. Much of this success story would seem to be applicable to the Moon - and it is obvious in the Artemis Accords that this has been considered. There is one major distinction - enabling of activities related to possible commercial utilization of lunar resources. The Artemis Accords do not try and get around the current binding treaties but rather seeks to append clarity to certain aspects while dealing into areas that had previously not been addressed.

Seeing This From An Expeditionary Mindset

I'm not going to get into the legalistic per se because all of the experts and non-experts will start waving their arms. Rather I am going to go through the main points - as listed by NASA - and talk about what the Artemis Accords address and what this means for the exploration and utilization of the Moon (and other worlds) from an exploratory and expeditionary mindset.

My expeditionary mindset arises from several activities. One was the participation of myself and my business partner Marc Boucher in activities conducted by the Haughton Mars Project on Devon Island located in the Canadian high arctic in Nunavut 800 or so miles from the North Pole. The land there is under various jurisdictions - Crown Land (national) and Inuit land managed by local inhabitants. And land use permits are required with periodic environmental reviews. Marc and I donated and built the 12 x 24 foot "Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse" which was outfitted by various other partners including the Canadian Space Agency to function like a remote greenhouse - on Mars. I spent two, 1-month stints in 2002 and 2003 and another week-long stay in 2007. This involved construction in a hostile environment, atop permafrost, living in often brutal arctic camping conditions, with medical help far away. But the various governmental and organizational parties involved all cooperated to make things work smoothly for everyone.

The other influential experience was spending a month living at 17,600 feet at Everest Base Camp supporting astronaut Scott Parazynski's summit of Mt. Everest. My Devon Island training served me well as we experienced illness, somewhat ad hoc responses to emergency operations involving deadly avalanches, challenging satellite communication and logistics, and, as was the case on Devon Island, the isolation from the rest of the world that one experiences on such expeditions. While we were in the country of Nepal, China was one linear mile away and its influence over the region was hard to ignore and had to be taken into account. Indeed, I had to cancel my plans to join Scott on his first attempt in 2008 when China all but annexed the Everest region in Nepal temporarily so as to prevent Olympics-related protests. I would have most likely been arrested and deported for my media-related activities had I attempted to travel to Everest. And oh yes Nepal had just ended a decade long civil war a few years earlier with barbed wire still in evidence.

Two remote, challenging - yet austere and exciting locations - with many similarities and many differences. So ... when it comes to trying to do things in a dangerous, remote locations, I have seen many of the things that the Artemis Accords touch upon with my own eyes. I have seen situations where the rules of engagement are both clear and murky - often simultaneously. As such it is reassuring to see NASA leading the way in grappling head on with the obvious issues that will confront expanded operations on other words - and not side stepping them as has been the case for far too long. The Artemis Accords may not be perfect and are obviously an opening step, but they do provide an excellent basis to build upon.

Examining The Artemis Accords

Let's take NASA's list of Artemis Accord attributes one by one - in the order they presented them in their promotional material "Principles for a Safe, Peaceful, and Prosperous Future".

"Peaceful Purposes - International cooperation on Artemis is intended not only to bolster space exploration but to enhance peaceful relationships between nations. Therefore, at the core of the Artemis Accords is the requirement that all activities will be conducted for peaceful purposes, per the tenets of the Outer Space Treaty."

The core intent of prior treaties regarding space has been the peaceful uses of space. According to the United Nations Office of Outer space Affairs The Outer Space Treaty was intended to adhere to these principles:

- the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
- outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
- outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
- States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
- the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
- astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;
- States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities;
- States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects; and
- States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

The Antarctic Treaty has similar intentions:

- Article I: Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only
- Article II: Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end ... shall continue
- Article III: Scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available

There is also a "Moon Treaty" that the US is not a signatory to. Among its provisions are:

ARTICLE 3

1. The moon shall be used by all States Parties exclusively for peaceful purposes.

2. Any threat or use of force or any other hostile act or threat of hostile act on the moon is prohibited. It is likewise prohibited to use the moon in order to commit any such act or to engage in any such threat in relation to the earth, the moon, spacecraft, the personnel of spacecraft or man-made space objects.

3. States Parties shall not place in orbit around or other trajectory to or around the moon objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction or place or use such weapons on or in the moon.

4. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military maneuvers on the moon shall be forbidden. The use of military personnel for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes shall not be prohibited. The use of any equipment or facility necessary for peaceful exploration and use of the moon shall also not be prohibited.
 
ARTICLE 4

The exploration and use of the moon shall be the province of all mankind and shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development. Due regard shall be paid to the interests of present and future generations as well as to the need to promote higher standards of living and conditions of economic and social progress and development in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

2. States Parties shall be guided by the principle of co-operation and mutual assistance in all their activities concerning the exploration and use of the moon. International co-operation in pursuance of this Agreement should be as wide as possible and may take place on a multilateral basis, on a bilateral basis or through international intergovernmental organizations.

Putting the commercial and utilization issue aside both the Outer Space Treaty (first signed in 1967) and the Antarctic Treaty (first signed a few years earlier in 1959) emerged in the Cold War era as the world was seeking to become polarized. These efforts sought to do the opposite and bring nations together in the peaceful exploration of two new frontiers. The fact that these two treaties still operate half a century later speaks well to their core intent. "The Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space", "Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space", "Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects" and "Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies " aka "The Moon Treaty" followed.

While most to these treaties and agreements help clarify how signatories will are to conduct their various space activities The Moon Treaty goes on with some specificity to lay out a series of principles to guide activities on the Moon and other worlds. The wording is inherently proscriptive and restrictive which led the US to decline to sign it. Russian and China haven't signed it either. So that limits its ability to govern much of anything right now. The Artemis Accords are, on the other hand, decidedly enabling. So maybe they will work where the Moon Treaty has not.

The Antarctic Treaty grew out of many of the activities of the International Geophysical Year in 1957-58 which included Soviet and American attempts to launch an artificial satellite. There was a follow-up event of sorts, the International Polar year, that covered 2007-2009. Today the Antarctic continent is home to a myriad of scientific endeavors with many participating nations - all of whom seek to avoid interfering with one another while simultaneously collaborating when it is in everyone's best interests - especially when it comes to the safety of personnel.

Space had its own version of a global event, the International Space Year in 1992 to commemorate Columbus' first voyage to the Americas. Most of what emerged that year was meetings and rhetoric. That said, these events did manage to underscore the value of international and peaceful cooperation in space. Since then the only purposeful international space effort that has occurred is an ongoing one - the International Space Station. While countries on Earth continue to misbehave and polarize the same countries have managed to keep terrestrial politics out of the operations of the iSS. Indeed, some people think that the ISS should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Cooperating in space may have some lessons for how to live on Earth - and unexpected "spinoff" to be sure.

As such framing the Artemis Accords as an extension of the Outer Space Treaty with its focus on peaceful space activities is in keeping with a record of success in these regard. With an increased focus on the military aspects of space - the recent creation of the US Space Force being the most visible aspect thereof - reaffirming a peaceful intent is certainly worth the effort of emphasizing.

"Transparency - Transparency is a key principle for responsible civil space exploration and NASA has always taken care to publicly describe its policies and plans. Artemis Accords partner nations will be required to uphold this principle by publicly describing their own policies and plans in a transparent manner."

During the earliest days of the "Space Age" the US and USSR dominated activities in space. The USSR spared no expense to trumpet their triumphs but managed to hide their failures. The US on the other hand tended to allow more or less everything good, bad, and in between to be released. The US showed things live - as they happened. The Soviets did not. The CIA knew all about their moon rocket but the rest of us did not. Imagine the US trying to hide the Saturn V? As other nations from the western block entered space they tended to adhere to the openness that the US had pioneered. Countries like China stuck with the Soviet model.

While the Cold War "Space Race" to the Moon had its roots in geopolitical competition it was also the source of some of America's most potent "soft power". Jim Bridenstine often notes that the live transmissions from the Apollo 8 crew on Christmas Eve as they read from the Bible were shown on TV in the Soviet Union where religion was highly suppressed. For a brief moment the Space Race opened an unexpected window in the Iron Curtain for the Soviet people to see a piece of the rest of the world. Not a single shot was fired and nothing was censored.

Information about exciting discoveries wants to get out. With regard to the Moon the Lunar and Planetary Science Conferences and other meetings in the late 1960s and early 1970s pumped out prodigious amounts of information about Apollo mission science activities. As more nations began active space activities this accelerated. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the advent of the Internet, it has become more or less the norm to release information in a global fashion - not just in the space arena but in all other aspects of science.

When humans first walked on the Moon a live webcast was seen by somewhere around 650 million viewers. This happened at a time when only 3.6 billion people lived on Earth. That's one-fifth of humanity - while satellite distribution of television was still in its infancy. There was no way that such an event was going to not find its way as far as technology could send it.

Today we have the opposite problem when it comes to sending information about news, events and discoveries out. Everyone is doing it everywhere about everything. It is expected. Even remote impoverished nations have cellphone towers for people with cellphones and data plans. As such there is simply no way that a renewed and expanded exploration of the Moon is not going to need to be as open and transparent as possible. This does not mean that everyone will be paying attention though. We have a generation of people reaching adulthood who have never known a time when there were not people living in space permanently. Yet they do not make it the highlight of their lives. Yawn. So what. So, as the Artemis Accords talk about transparency, it would be incorrect to equate that with visibility or interest. That is something that the participants need to figure out when it comes to selling their efforts to audiences back on Earth. No treaty or accord can mandate that.

Transparency does apply to what everyone is doing on the Moon and who the sponsors are. According to NASA's Acting Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations Mike Gold, who spearheaded the Artemis Accords, while countries are expected to sign these accords with NASA, individual companies are not. Yet the Outer Space Treaty mandates that companies operating from nations who have signed the treaty are bound to observe it as part of their host nation's participation in the treaty. So, one way or another what everyone is doing on the Moon needs to be out in the open. Companies may have their own internally held intellectual property that serves to justify their commercial investments - but how they behave amidst all other activities needs to be done out in the open. So, no secret Moon lairs for evil villains, please.

"Interoperability - Interoperability of systems is critical to ensure safe and robust space exploration. Therefore, the Artemis Accords call for partner nations to utilize open international standards, develop new standards when necessary, and strive to support interoperability to the greatest extent practical."

During the Apollo 13 mission the issue of standardized connectors within a spacecraft taught NASA a valuable lesson. If the crew did not have duct tape and other things on board to fashion a hacked container to scrub CO2 from their cabin air they would have died. During the Apollo-Soyuz mission the non-compatibility between one nation's space systems and another's was so profound that a special docking module had to be created to allow each nation's docking systems and internal atmospheres to be connected.

Flash forward to the Shuttle-Mir efforts and much more commonality was enabled. This was quickly followed by the International Space Station which is a full merger of Soviet era Salyut and Mir designs with American and European standards. The best of both worlds were incorporated where some standards are used everywhere and in other places multiple standards can be equally accommodated. Now you can dock visiting spacecraft with the Russian segment using the Russian APAS system, be berthed with the US segment using the Common Berthing Mechanism, or dock with the US Segment station using the new International Docking Standard. If China were to dock with the ISS they'd have several options open to them (politics not withstanding).

The ISS has been a trailblazer for true international interoperability and NASA has made it clear that they intend to continue with this philosophy during Artemis missions to the Moon. Interoperability is not a new idea by any means. Lightbulbs adopted a socket design that industry has used for over a century. Railroads have several century-old standards but they are ubiquitous. The Internet is based on a series of protocols that allow an endless array of interactions. Automobiles have inter-compatible fuel nozzle and electrical interfaces, tire sizes, and are often built using parts that are used in vehicles made by many different manufacturers. When you agree on simple interfaces you no longer have to worry about the interfaces themselves. Rather, you can focus on the things you can do with the global acceptance of those interfaces and the flexibility that provides.

If you have common, interoperable interfaces then any vehicle - crewed or automated - can interact with one another. This allows routine docking and landing to occur, traffic to be routed, and in the case of contingencies, allows one spacecraft or system to be reassigned to another role more easily. Apollo 13 showed how dissimilar interfaces without interoperability were a problem when it came to CO2 removal - but having the Lunar Module with its own guidance and propulsion allowed things to be done with minimal planning and an admittedly ad hoc fashion.

In remote expeditionary locations such as Antarctica or the Himalayas, climbing gear, food, fuel, communications, transportation and overall logistics are, by definition, interoperable. Lives depend on having everything available to everyone - everywhere - in both routine and contingency situations. The ability to function with a high level of interoperability is critical to the safety and productivity of people in the Antarctic. Indeed it is difficult to imagine what it would be like if every nation used their own unique standards. The Artemis Accords are, to a great extent, stating the obvious from an expeditionary point of view but there are times when adopting a specific design solution for a certain task can save money or time and it is tempting to just use a one off solution.

The Artemis Accords serve as a reminder that doing so can come back to bite you - or someone else.

"Emergency Assistance - Providing emergency assistance to those in need is a cornerstone of any responsible civil space program. Therefore, the Artemis Accords reaffirm NASA's and partner nations' commitments to the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space. Additionally, under the Accords, NASA and partner nations commit to taking all reasonable steps possible to render assistance to astronauts in distress."

In the expeditionary world interoperability extends through communication devices for routine and emergency operations. First aid and medical systems have an inherent common logic. Space-based communications have played an important role in making expeditions safer. SAR - Search And Rescue capabilities are in place on orbit aboard satellites from multiple nations. Constellations of satellites allow precise navigation via multiple global systems. Some use more than one. This interoperability and ubiquity is so pronounced that you can now carry a small device and simply push a button and your location and situation will be known instantly anywhere in the world. On the Moon this capability will have to evolve over time with the emplacement of some sort of satellite constellation in lunar orbit as the scope of lunar activities expands. As is the case on Earth it will be obvious to participants that a common system is worth adopting. Again the Artemis Accords serve as a reminder that this needs to be forefront in the development of mission architectures. They also include a healthy does of common sense.

On the Nepal side of Mt. Everest individuals seeking to climb Everest need to do so under the auspices of a permit grants by the government to an outfitter. They also need to pay a fee that serves to support the enforcement of various standards associated with Everest activities. Responsible outfitters adhere to the letter and spirt of this process while some other smaller ones do not. The responsible outfitters have a number of unwritten but commonly accepted norms of mountaineering behavior and ethics that they use to arrange the laying of fixed ropes, location of base camps, and to some extent, organizing summit pushes. With the insane number of people trying to climb Everest this has become of paramount importance and the existing interactions have been stressed almost to the point of breaking at times.

In 2009 I saw examples of some teams who did not adhere to all of these conventions and the problems that this causes. But even when everyone is cooperating issues can arise. I witnessed two immense avalanches while I was at Everest. One was deadly. An Austrian climber had to be pulled out of a crevasse. They were injured but survived. Their Sherpa climbing guide was not so lucky. During the initial hour after the avalanche there was a lot of confusion on the radio since everyone was using the same frequencies and it was hard to tell who was saying what to whom and who was in charge of what. After that there was some consultation between the main outfitters and some new rules of the road were established.

No one needed a treaty to do this. An uncommon event that should have been anticipated happened without all of the responses figured out in advance. So the participants fixed the situation. Luckily this experience was still fresh in people's minds when an even more devastating avalanche happened in 2015. Now, with an ever-growing pressure to accommodate more people who want to climb Everest, there are more discussions underway between outfitters and the Nepalese government as well as with China on their side of the mountain. Things are still in flux, exasperated by the pandemic, but the discussions are among all affected parties motivated by a series of competing interests that all eventually focus on how to make climbing Everest as safe and efficient as possible.

"Registration of Space Objects - Registration is at the very core of creating a safe and sustainable environment in space to conduct public and private activities. Without proper registration, coordination to avoid harmful interference cannot take place. The Artemis Accords reinforces the critical nature of registration and urges any partner which isn't already a member of the Registration Convention to join as soon as possible."

The issue of space traffic management in Earth orbit is now a great concern - even more so as space debris and massive communications constellations are being launched. Allotment of frequency spectrum slots is also an issue due to potential interference with existing communications systems and services such as weather satellites. The Moon is a blank slate to a great extent. But with an expanded presence the issue of space debris, satellites (large and small) and landing activities will become an important concern. For example, if one party wants to conduct activities that could alter the Moon's tenuous atmosphere while another party wants to study the atmosphere as it exists naturally there is going to be a conflict. Mechanisms need to be enabled to prevent conflicts that are predictable and deal with those that arise unexpectedly.

At Everest the Nepalese government tracks how many people are on the mountain so as to be able to respond in the case of contingencies. In Antarctica all sponsoring countries keep track of who is there - whether they are scientists or support personnel. Everyone knows what aircraft assets are available and where they are and provisions at every base are in place to assist others in case of contingencies. On Devon Island and the rest of the Canadian High Arctic the Polar Continental Shelf Program has a system of regular radio checks with bases and research parties. If they do not hear from you after a set period of time they eventually check in on you to make sure you are OK. This happens by alerting other parties flying nearby to detour and do a flyover or land and make visit. And there's always a little extra prop fuel on the landing strip for visitors to tap into as needed on a barter basis. Again, you need to know where everyone is in order for this to work. And in some cases, regions are restricted to specific uses and some level of common enforcement is required.

"Release of Scientific Data - NASA has always been committed to the timely, full, and open sharing of scientific data. Artemis Accords partners will agree to follow NASA's example, releasing their scientific data publicly to ensure that the entire world can benefit from the Artemis journey of exploration and discovery."

As mentioned above "transparency" can have a variety of meanings. One aspect is the release of information about what you plan to do, what you are doing, and what you have done - and what you learned. Various space treaties often refer to celestial bodies as being a common heritage of humanity. This is an implicit call for anything that anyone learns to be shared with everyone. The Artemis Accords reiterate and echo that.

In the US and Europe there have been a variety of efforts to make the results of publicly funded research even more open to the public than they already were. NASA is now required to openly release all research publications within a set period of time regardless of where they are published. But In advance of that they have taken various efforts to do so even sooner. They have also embraced citizen science wherein the public and external participants can collaborate in NASA projects. These citizen science projects are often done in a crowd sourced fashion whereby the public is intimately involved in the generation of information and solutions. The agency also supports use of open source resources wherein code, data, and other information are openly shared and published in an open access fashion.

The push for open access and citizen participation is now ubiquitous and not confide to NASA by any means. The pandemic and the need to adopt a virtual lifestyle has simply served to push the need for open access further - not only for citizen but for the researchers seeking to find treatments for COVID-19. People are going to get used to this open sharing and release of data and accept it as part of the "new normal" if indeed they have not already done so.

Releasing this information allows people in many places within and outside of the US to actually participate in the generation of new knowledge about space science. And in so doing engenders a sense of personal connection to the research being done. People who have a personal connection develop an affinity with the projects generating the science and seek to support their continuity. By making the information globally available, NASA will once again be engaging in the use of soft power wherein this knowledge becomes part of the common heritage of humanity - a phrase that appears often when treaties are concerned.

"Protecting Heritage - Protecting historic sites and artifacts will be just as important in space as it is here on Earth. Therefore, under Artemis Accords agreements, NASA and partner nations will commit to the protection of sites and artifacts with historic value."

When I visited Devon Island I was keenly aware of the need to not trample places that needed to be left in a pristine condition and to give artifacts of historic significance a wide berth while appreciating their meaning. I also helped erect memorials to the crews of Challenger and Columbia in a fashion resonate with local culture. At Everest I spent 6 weeks with history - recent and ancient - coursing through my mind non-stop. I recall using my twenty-first century iPhone to take pictures of mani stones that had been carved a thousand years ago and left unmoved since being put in place. And then an hour later I'd pass a memorial to a someone who died climbing Everest mere years in the past. As we move outward from Earth the places where we first arrive are going to assume equal significance - and they deserve the same reverence and respect as do places of importance on Earth.

In 2011 NASA released the recommendations from an effort it initiated "NASA's Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of US Government Lunar Artifacts" which states "Until more formal USG guidance is developed and perhaps a multilateral approach is developed to reflect various nations' views on lunar hardware of scientific and historic value, NASA has assembled this document that contains the collected technical knowledge of its personnel - with advice from external experts and potential space-faring entities - and provides interim recommendations for lunar vehicle design and mission planning teams. As such, this document does not represent mandatory USG or international requirements; rather, it is offered to inform lunar spacecraft mission planners interested in helping preserve and protect lunar historic artifacts and potential science opportunities for future missions."

One would assume that the Artemis Accords will build upon this preliminary document as NASA signs agreements based on the Artemis Accords with other nations.

"Space Resources - The ability to extract and utilize resources on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids will be critical to support safe and sustainable space exploration and development. The Artemis Accords reinforce that space resource extraction and utilization can and will be conducted under the auspices of the Outer Space Treaty, with specific emphasis on Articles II, VI, and XI."

This is where the issues pop up in terms of visiting and studying the Moon and using the sources that it can provide to support a long term human presence. ISRU - In Situ Resource Utilization is a feature of mostly all exploration scenarios fo rah eMoon, Mars, and elsewhere. You need to use materials you find at your destination to let you stay there and then return home. That means digging them up or collecting them in one way or another. Another word for that is "mining" although that tends to be more applicable to large scale efforts as practice on Earth.

ARTICLE II says "Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."

ARTICLE VI says "States Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty. .... etc."

ARTICLE XI says "In order to promote international co-operation in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, States Parties to the Treaty conducting activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, agree to inform the Secretary-General of the United Nations as well as the public and the international scientific community, to the greatest extent feasible and practicable, of the nature, conduct, locations and results of such activities. On receiving the said information, the Secretary-General of the United Nations should be prepared to disseminate it immediately and effectively."

So if you take the most restrictive interpretation of the treaty then anything that any entity that was created or resides under the authority of the US does reflects back on the US and since the treaty frowns upon using anything one might find on another world for non-scientific uses that would hamper a lot of the architectures that call upon use of local resources. Of course you could argue that the use of local resources is needed in order to conduct those scientific activities.

I specifically asked Mike Gold if any US company would need to sign the Artemis Accords and he said that they did not need to sign. So that would seem to put them out on their own. But NASA intends to sign Artemis Accords on behalf of the US with other nations that include provisos for the use of resources on the Moon - so this places the activities of any party that the US is responsible for under the terms of the agreement being signed. In essence the Artemis Accords, as they are signed between individual nations and the US will build up a consensus in a piecemeal fashion that enables things such as local resource utilization. At this point Russia has not been a party to these discussions and the US cannot deal with China under existing law so these agreements can only go so far.

One would imagine that if the US and any of its Artemis Accords partners do not make national claims and only reserve the right to manage the immediate vicinity of their operations, and that care will be taken to otherwise preserve the lunar surface, that living and working on the Moon will not be all that much different than it is in Antarctica. Right now in Antarctica local resources such as air and water are used, the surface is moved around for bases built atop the permafrost or the ice, waste is handled with care, and access to the continent is somewhat restricted. No one is mining for coal or minerals, virtually all of Antarctica is treated as a scientific preserve in a way that all participants adhere to, and participating nations have put aside any national territory claims for more than half a century, and cruise ships can visit specific areas under stick guidelines so as to protect local ecosystems. Sounds like a nice working precedent for the Moon to me.

Afterthought: When the Apollo crews prepared to depart from the Moon they jettisoned spacesuits, unneeded items, and bags of human waste. Given the harsh nature of the lunar surface it is highly doubtful than anything living survived these harsh conditions. If we are going to use the Moon in the "sustainable" fashion that NASA says they intend to do then these types of discarded materials would be of immense value. Any lunar architect that does not use the sun's energy to reprocess organic waste to recover precious carbon and nitrogen should be fired. Not only can waste be reused for life support systems but it can be used for more imaginative things. Indeed. ESA recently released information about a study whereby urea from astronaut urine served as a construction material for lunar habitats. When we hear talk of utilizing local resources or ISRU we usually only think of mining. Well mining our waste is going to be a critical technology to living on the Moon. Indeed, I'd rewrite the Artemis Accords to require that all parties reuse their waste instead of releasing it into the lunar environment.

"Deconfliction of Activities - Avoiding harmful interference is an important principle of the Outer Space Treaty which is implemented by the Artemis Accords. Specifically, via the Artemis Accords, NASA and partner nations will provide public information regarding the location and general nature of operations which will inform the scale and scope of 'Safety Zones'. Notification and coordination between partner nations to respect such safety zones will prevent harmful interference, implementing Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty and reinforcing the principle of due regard."

As mentioned above there are ample precedents within Earth's polar, alpine - and also oceanic realms for multi-party, multi-national, public/private activities using a common area whereby all of the parties involved seek to cooperate in a collaborative fashion (for the most part) to ensure freedom of access and protection of property.

Afterthought: With regard to the behavior of people living in space, NASA has codified its own requirements - which have been agreed to tby the other participants in the ISS program - 14 CFR § 1214.403 - Code of Conduct for the International Space Station Crew which "sets forth the standards of conduct applicable to all ISS crewmembers during preflight, on-orbit, and post-flight activities, (including launch and return phases). ISS crewmembers are subject to additional requirements, such as the ISS Flight Rules, the disciplinary policy, and requirements imposed by their Cooperating Agency or those relating to the Earth-to-Orbit Vehicle (ETOV) transporting an ISS crewmember." It would make total sense for NASA to include a similar code of conduct as part of the Artemis Accords.

In addition there is already a document set forth by NASA "NASA's Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of US Government Lunar Artifacts". There are also "Special Region" designations on Mars for locations that might be hospitable to Earth life so as to prevent human artifact from entering these zones without prior sterilization to prevent any possible contamination. There have already been cases where intriguing locations on Mars that a rover could have visited being declared off limits because the rover was not sterilized to the extent required to entire these areas.

There is also an existing set of planetary protection standards set up by COSPAR and supported by space faring nations that deal with the issue of planetary protection I.e. preventing the contamination of locations on other worlds by Earth life and vice versa. Right now, with regard to planetary protection, the Moon is categorized as "Unrestricted Class V" - "Earth-return missions from bodies deemed by scientific opinion to have no indigenous life forms." No one found any evidence of indigenous life present or past on the Moon. Its up to us how much we wish to bring there. Given the harsh conditions its is improbable that any life could survive on the Moon. But you could say that about much of Antarctica and yet everyone does their best to avoid contaminating the environment so as to preserve it for possible future study if nothing else.

However there are other forms of contamination and interference that are potentially at issue. Spacecraft can affect the local lunar environment during landing and surface operations. They can also affect the EM spectrum used for scientific observations. And special sites such as historic locations could have their current condition altered by nearby landings and human activity.

One time when I was at Resolute Bay on Cornwallis island waiting for my flight over to Devon Island a bunch of us went out to view some ancient indigenous habitation sites. There were no park rangers around. A few signs remind us of what to do and not do. Given the condition of the site, everyone adhered to these rules. In Nepal ancient artifacts are everywhere but I never saw anyone attempt to do anything improper. Today in Antarctica there are numerous huts and materials left behind by explorers more than a century ago. The deep cold and dry conditions have preserved them to an amazing extent. Many can be visited. The rules whereby they are approached and visited are laid out. Again - no park rangers to enforce the rules.

With regard to operational bases or research experiment locations on the Moon, it should don't be difficult for sponsors to provide reasonable areas with varying levels of access so as to prevent navigation hazards, scientific disruptions, or communications interference. Indeed if we are going to have multiple human bases on the Moon at some point it would be unlikely that we'd not know where everyone is simply due to satellites in orbit observing the Moon. "Deconfliction" is a term you normally hear used to define the process of making sure that military forces do not mistake one another or interfere with each other's zones of influence or operations. No one seems to be talking about military bases on or near the Moon - and they are already prohibited by virtue of international treaty. As such the wording use by NASA is probably in need of some slight revision.

In summary a lot of what is contained in the Artemis Accords, as NASA has public described them thus far, has ample precedent on Earth. As noted above, I have been on expeditions where I lived in remote, dangerous locations where help form the outside was unlikely and local resources were called upon in contingencies. The last thing I'd think of doing would be to hamper my neighbor's operations in any way since they might be the people who come to rescue me tomorrow if I get in trouble. I don't want them to have logistic issues and I certainly do not want them to be mad at me if I call for help.

"Orbital Debris and Spacecraft Disposal - Preserving a safe and sustainable environment in space is critical for both public and private activities. Therefore, under the Artemis Accords, NASA and partner nations will agree to act in a manner that is consistent with the principles reflected in the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Moreover, NASA and partner nations will agree to plan for the mitigation of orbital debris, including the safe, timely, and efficient passivation and disposal of spacecraft at the end of their missions."

This aspect of the Artemis Accords is really nothing new. The issue is already covered in one treaty and is a topic of active discussion and research internationally with missions being developed to address the issue with regard to activities in low Earth orbit. With regard to the Moon, up until now, missions that ended with the deliberate de-orbiting and crashing of spacecraft was done mostly to prevent future traffic issues. Of course anytime you hit the Moon there are various scientific observations to be made. During the Apollo era the S-IVB stages were often deliberately crashed so as to provide a signal for recently installed surface seismometers to analyze the interior structure of the Moon. In the case of LCROSS the intent was to see if water ice bearing material could be kicked up such that another spacecraft could make observations.

It goes without saying that as more people and instruments are placed on the lunar surface, the crashing of spacecraft will need to be a much more structured process so as to not hit anything important or me sup someone's science. There is also another thing to consider: reusing materials once their original purpose has passed. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that spacecraft in orbit could be recycled for other uses and that spacecraft crashed in a certain location might end up providing useful material for reprocessing and reuse on the lunar surface. If all of the potential uses for polar ice are realized then there is going to be a lot of traffic up and down. Since every launch is an opportunity for something to go wrong, a sustained flow of traffic to and from the lunar surface is going to need a traffic and location system that works hand in hand with the need to safely dispose of spacecraft.

So what do these Artemis Accords really do?

The reason that they are being pursued now is that the US is working hard to get back to the Moon with humans at an expedited pace. The intent is to sign agreements between NASA (representing the US) and individual nations and/or their space agencies. Every space agency that NASA works with is going to bring their own interest to the table and it would make sense that these one on one agreements reflect the pressing issues while including all of the other issues as mentioned above. The US is not likely going to be able to sign agreements with China in the near future and it is uncertain how Russia wishes to approach things. So if the US were to wait for a standard UN style agreement to clarify things for Artemis missions they'd be waiting a long time.

Also, the original treaties that are now seen as limiting what can be done on other worlds were crafted half a century ago during the height of the Cold War when no one really knew what lay ahead. As I noted, there was some hope that perhaps some future human activity could be carved out in a preemptively peaceful fashion - one based on avoiding the pervasive Cold War paranoia and cynicism of the time. Now we are in that future on the cusp of wanting to return to the Moon with for scientific, exploratory, and possibly commercial reasons - twenty-first century reasons. Existing treaties (which only refer to "mankind" and not "humanity"), like anything else, evolve over time.

As for those who fear that we will destroy what we seek to visit on the Moon and other worlds, well, they certainly have a good example here on Earth as to what not to do. But we also have an example of what we can do orbiting over head with people living on board - one that has managed to operate for two decades outside the sphere of petty terrestrial politics. Meanwhile our robots have left our solar system and have begin to traverse interstellar space. It is possible to get things right.

Despite a half a century of absence from the lunar surface the Apollo missions showed us last summer just how compelling the exploration of another world can be. More than half of humanity has never seen people do this live on TV. Let's go back there enabled by twenty-first century reasons - and not be limited by twentieth century, Cold War thinking.

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