NASA lays out 'Artemis Accords' for responsible moon exploration

Artist's illustration of NASA Artemis astronauts on the moon.
Artist's illustration of NASA Artemis astronauts on the moon. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA is setting some guidelines for humanity's return to the moon.

The space agency has long stressed that international collaboration will be key to its Artemis program, which aims to land two astronauts near the lunar south pole in 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on and around the moon by 2028. And today (May 15), NASA unveiled some bedrock principles that foreign partners will have to abide by.

"International space agencies that join NASA in the Artemis program will do so by executing bilateral Artemis Accords agreements, which will describe a shared vision for principles, grounded in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to create a safe and transparent environment which facilitates exploration, science and commercial activities for all of humanity to enjoy," NASA officials wrote in a statement today.

Related: NASA sees inspiration parallels of Apollo and Artemis moonshots

The Outer Space Treaty (OST) is the founding document of international space law. It has been ratified by more than 100 nations, including the United States and the world's other major space powers. The OST stipulates that space exploration should be conducted for peaceful purposes only, and that sentiment forms of the core of the Artemis Accords, NASA officials said.

Transparency is also a necessity for Artemis partners; according to the new guidelines, they will be required to publicly disclose their exploration plans and policies and make their scientific data available, as NASA does.

The Artemis Accords also cover space mining, which NASA sees as key to humanity's exploration efforts over the long haul.

"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," agency officials wrote in a description of the Artemis Accords. "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."

The Accords will also implement another OST tenet — the prevention of "harmful interference" by one nation in the off-Earth affairs of another.

"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,'" NASA officials wrote. "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."

Artemis Accord signatories will also pledge to, among other things, protect historic sites and artifacts on the moon and other cosmic locales; plan disposal of dead and dying spacecraft to keep space-junk levels down; use "interoperable" hardware whenever possible; and render emergency assistance to astronauts as needed.

NASA's Artemis partners aren't just foreign space agencies; private companies are playing a big role in the moon push as well. For example, private moon landers will ferry NASA science and technology experiments to the lunar surface beginning next year, if all goes according to plan. And NASA astronauts will touch down aboard landers built by commercial companies.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.