WASHINGTON (Reuters) – NASA on Friday set the stage for a global debate on the basic principles that govern how humans will live and work on the moon by disclosing the main principles of an international pact for moon exploration called the Artemis Agreement.
ARCHIVE PHOTO: The full moon, also known as the Super Moon or Flower Moon, rises above the Statue of Liberty, as seen in Jersey City, New Jersey, USA, on May 7, 2020. REUTERS / Brendan McDermid / File Photo
The agreements seek to establish & # 39; security zones & # 39; that would surround future lunar bases to prevent what the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration called "harmful interference" from rival countries or companies operating nearby.
They would also allow companies to own the lunar resources they extract, a crucial element in allowing NASA contractors to convert ice from moon water into rocket fuel or lunar minerals from the mine to build landing platforms.
The deals are an essential part of NASA's effort to woo allies around its plan to build a long-term presence on the lunar surface under its Artemis lunar program.
"What we are doing is implementing the Outer Space Treaty with the Artemis Agreements," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told Reuters, referring to a 1967 international pact that emphasizes that space must be used for peaceful and non-military.
The structure will be used as an incentive for nations to adhere to US standards of behavior in space, he added.
"This applies to low Earth orbit, and also to the moon," said Bridenstine. The agreements also require countries to adopt standards from the United Nations Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines – which govern the prevention of hazardous space debris – and the Registration Convention, which would require countries to provide orbital details of their "space objects".
The US Congress passed a law in 2015 that allows companies to own the resources they extract in outer space, but these laws do not exist in the international community. The Artemis Agreements, consistent with the Trump administration's space policy, appear to pave the way for companies to explore the moon under international law and urge countries to enact similar national laws that would link the space operations of their private sector.
"Why were private companies at risk of going to mining resources if the legal situation was that they could be prevented from owning them?" Lori Garver, a former deputy administrator for NASA, told Reuters. "So anything that it does to clarify all of this can really help to advance the progress of space development."
CHINA AND RUSSIA
Reuters reported earlier this month that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump was writing the Artemis Agreements.
In response, the head of the Russian space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, criticized Washington for excluding Russia from initial negotiations on the space exploration pact, drawing parallels with US foreign policy in the Middle East.
“The principle of the invasion is the same, whether on the moon or in Iraq. The creation of a & # 39; coalition of will & # 39; starts, ”wrote Rogozin on Twitter. "Only Iraq or Afghanistan will come out of this."
China said it was willing to cooperate with all parties in lunar exploration "to make a greater contribution to building a community with a shared future for humanity," a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said in a statement sent to Reuters by fax.
Security zones – although designed to encourage coordination – raised questions about whether the agreements are in line with the Outer Space Treaty, which states that the moon and other celestial bodies “are not subject to national appropriation for sovereignty claims, through of use or occupation. or by any other means. "
The size of the security zones varies according to the nature of the surrounding area and does not constitute appropriation, said Bridenstine.
They would follow the principle that "basically says that I will stay out of your way, you will stay out of my way, and we can all operate in this space," he added.
However, there is a question about who determines the size of security zones, said Ram Jakhu, an associate professor at the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University in Canada. "Security zones are necessary, but they can also be abused to make them appropriate."
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But Mike Gold, NASA's associate director of international relations, told Reuters that the language of lunar mining should not concern other nations.
"The principles that are being presented here are nothing that we believe any nation responsible for space would disagree with," he said.
"Through the Artemis Agreements, we hope that the future looks much more like" Star Trek "and even less like" Star Wars ", overcoming these issues," said Gold.
Reporting by Joey Roulette, edited by Bill Tarrant and Rosalba O & # 39; Brien
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