France is the most recent signatory to the Artemis Accords, NASA's international agreement to establish best practices for ongoing cooperation on moon exploration.
The signing took place June 7 and adds to a quickly growing list of countries, with Colombia joining the accords just a month ago.
French Ambassador to the United States Philippe Étienne hosted the event, which preceded a celebration commemorating the 60th anniversary of the founding of CNES, the French space agency. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson joined CNES President Philippe Baptiste for the signing ceremony, at which both voiced optimism for the milestone.
"France is one of the United States' oldest allies, and our partnership in space exploration dates back more than half a century," Nelson said. "That partnership is strengthened by France's commitment to ensuring the peaceful and responsible exploration of outer space for generations to come."
Nelson's French counterpart echoed that sentiment. "For our scientific community and industry, this new framework will enable us to meet new challenges and continue to be a leading world space power," Baptiste said.
The Artemis Accords were codified in 2020 as an effort by the United States and partner nations to establish a cooperative framework for progressing NASA's lunar exploration goals and beyond. France is the 20th country to add its name to the endeavor and the fifth nation from the European Union to do so.
NASA has created a road map for returning astronauts to the moon through the agency's Artemis program, and its success relies on an international effort. The backbone of the Artemis program, NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and new crew-capable Orion capsule, represent a multi-nation collaboration, with Orion's power and propulsion systems built into the vehicle's service module, provided to NASA by the European Space Agency (ESA).
NASA's plans for a small moon-orbiting space station called Gateway will also require international contributions. Gateway will serve as Orion's harbor in orbit around the moon, which will allow crews to depart in a separate vehicle designed for landing on the lunar surface.
But Gateway, and humanity's return to the moon, are still a ways away. The first Artemis mission, Artemis 1, has a chance of launching later this year, but that is dependent on a successful "wet dress rehearsal" of the rocket and ground systems, which is scheduled to occur on June 18. Artemis 1 will send an uncrewed Orion capsule on a journey around the moon and back.
Astronauts aren't scheduled to fly aboard Orion until Artemis 2, which is currently slated for no earlier than 2024. NASA's goal is to eventually establish a permanent human presence on the moon, and the space agency sees the Artemis Accords as a way to ensure international participation in this effort.
In a press release (opens in new tab) that celebrated France's signing, NASA stated the expectation for additional countries to sign the accords in the coming months and years as the space agency continues its international outreach "to establish a safe, peaceful and prosperous future in space."