Eight countries have signed a pact to regulate lunar exploration, including human settlements on the lunar surface.
Eight countries have signed an international lunar exploration pact called the Artemis Accords, which NASA announced on Tuesday. This is a win for the US space agency, which is working to set standards for building long-term settlements on the lunar surface.
The agreements, named after NASA’s Artemis lunar program, aim to build on existing international space law by establishing “safety zones” surrounding future lunar bases to prevent conflicts between states operating there and private companies that own lunar resources mined by them.
The United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates signed the bilateral agreements during an annual space conference on Tuesday after months of talks. The U.S. is working to cultivate allies for its plan to return astronauts to the moon by 2024.
“We’re trying to establish norms of behavior that any nation can agree to,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters. He said the agreements are in line with a 1967 treaty that exempts the moon and other celestial bodies from national property claims.
“We are operationalizing the Space Treaty to create the broadest, most comprehensive and largest human space coalition in human history,” said Bridenstine.
The Trump administration and the governments of other space countries see the moon as strategic capital. The moon also has value for long-term scientific research that could enable future missions to Mars – activities that fall under a regime of international space law that is generally considered obsolete.
In 2019, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence directed NASA to return humans to the moon by 2024 – halving the agency’s previous timeline – and to establish a long-term human presence on the lunar surface.
The NASA program, which is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars, will send robotic rovers to the lunar surface before an eventual human landing. NASA also plans to build a Lunar Gateway, a space station that orbits the moon. The plan is for it to be built by a mix of NASA contractors and international partners.