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Eight Countries Sign NASA’s Artemis Accords, New Legal Framework for Maintaining Peace on the Moon

Nations must sign and uphold the agreement if they plan to join NASA’s mission to send astronauts back to the moon

In 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong took this photo of Buzz Aldrin on the first-ever moon walk. Humans haven't walked on the moon since 1972. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
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Yesterday, NASA announced that eight countries, including the United States, have signed onto the Artemis Accords—a legal framework designed to maintain peace and govern behavior in the trek to put boots back on the moon by 2024, reports Christian Davenport for the Washington Post.

The U.S. has been the only country to send astronauts to the moon, but nobody has stepped foot on the celestial body since 1972. NASA is leading the quest to return, and in May, the organization announced that for countries to join its lunar exploration program, Artemis, they must sign on. Since then, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and Italy have joined the U.S. in accepting the Artemis Accords. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine says that he expects more countries to join in the coming months and years, reports Marcia Dunn for the Associated Press.

"Artemis will be the broadest and most diverse international human space exploration program in history, and the Artemis Accords are the vehicle that will establish this singular global coalition," Bridenstine says in a statement. "With [its] signing, we are uniting with our partners to explore the moon and are establishing vital principles that will create a safe, peaceful and prosperous future in space for all of humanity to enjoy."

The terms set in the Artemis Accords apply for moon exploration in this decade and set the precedent for a historic expedition to Mars in the 2030s.

The agreement is based on the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which laid the framework for peaceful space exploration, established that no country may lay claim to outer space or any celestial body and prohibited any weapons from being sent into orbit, reports Ashley Strickland for CNN.

However, the Outer Space Treaty is vague, reports Loren Grush for The Verge, and the Artemis Accords offer more concrete language for how the U.S. plans to lead this international effort. Its terms are rooted in maintaining peace, openness and cooperation: No fighting. Be transparent about mission plans. Publicly share scientific data. Protect historic sites. Safely extract resources. Don’t litter.

"If you want to join the Artemis journey, nations must abide by the Outer Space Treaty and other norms of behavior that will lead to a more peaceful, safe and prosperous future in space exploration, not just for NASA and its partners, but for all of humanity to enjoy," Mike Gold, acting associate administrator for NASA's Office of International and Interagency Relations, says in a call with Mike Wall for Space.com and other reporters.

But two key players in space exploration, Russia and China, are missing. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s space agency chief, previously said that the Artemis Accords are “too U.S.-centric” and that Russia is unlikely to sign on, reports the Washington Post. He says that Russia would prefer a model more akin to that of the International Space Station in which no single country is in charge. China, on the other hand, is excluded altogether since NASA is barred from signing any agreements with the country, reports the Associated Press.

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