The document has been named the “Artemis Accords” after NASA’s renewed Artemis moon mission program that plans to put not only humans but also a space station on the moon during the next decade.
Last year NASA requested funding of $1.6 billion to begin the moon mission. The mission that is currently planned for 2024 includes a woman astronaut.
NASA Administrator confirmed the plans last May in a tweet stating: “Our #Moon2024 mission is being named after Artemis, who was a sister to Apollo and goddess of the Moon. We’re excited to be landing the first woman and next man on the surface of the Moon by 2024.“
The president also famously tweeted in June of last year that NASA “should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!”
On April 6, 2020, with the rising presence of COVID-19, President Trump signed an executive order titled, “Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources,” affirming several points about continued moon exploration and exploitation.
The order said, “Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law.”
The order also noted, “The United States is not a party to the Moon Agreement. Further, the United States does not consider the Moon Agreement to be an effective or necessary instrument to guide nation states regarding the promotion of commercial participation in the long-term exploration, scientific discovery, and use of the Moon, Mars, or other celestial bodies.”
The Moon Agreement or Moon Treaty is formally called the “Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.” It is a multilateral framework created in 1979 that bans the military use of celestial bodies, established a blueprint for laws governing the responsible use of the Moon’s resources, and bans altering the natural balance of celestial objects.
Most nations are non-parties including China, Germany, Russia, U.K., and the U.S. Only France, Guatemala, India, and Romania are signatories with 18 other nations as parties.
The U.S. is, however, a party to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which is formally called the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. The treaty is predominantly a non-armament treaty prohibiting the weaponization of space including a prohibition of nuclear weapons in space.
The 1967 treaty does describe the peaceful use of space while establishing not only free exploration by all nations but also noting that nations may not claim sovereignty of outer space or any celestial body
The Executive Order seemingly rebuts the 1967 treaty, making clear that “Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view space as a global commons.” The “commons” refers to both English common law and economic theory that identifies cultural and natural resources as available and accessible to all members of society, including natural and a habitable earth.
In 2015, the 114th U.S. Congress passed the “Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act” explicitly permitting U.S. citizens and industries to “engage in the commercial exploration and exploitation of space resources” including water and minerals.
And the current executive order affirms that law noting that the federal government will “require partnership with commercial entities to recover and use resources, including water and certain minerals, in outer space.”
Dr. Scott Pace, Deputy Assistant to the President and Executive Secretary of the National Space Council released a statement as the executive order was signed stating:
“As America prepares to return humans to the Moon and journey on to Mars, this Executive Order establishes U.S. policy toward the recovery and use of space resources, such as water and certain minerals, in order to encourage the commercial development of space.”
The April Executive Order also commissions a report on the use of space resources, and it is presumably the impetus for creating the Artemis Accords.
The Accord reportedly proposed “safety zones” around future moon bases to prevent interference or damage from other nations. Reuters reports that the Accords also describe a framework for allowing private companies to own lunar resources for mining.
The current Accord is also part of a longer campaign exposing Trump’s interest in shaping space policy most famously with the creation of the “Space Force,” the newest U.S. military branch, and the latest since 1947 when the Air Force was created.
But the lunar mining plans are also consistent with the administration’s earthly mining interests such as opening more federal land for fossil fuel exploration and drilling despite the recent collapse of the oil market.
One source told Reuters that the Artemis Accords are not about claiming moon territory. Rather, the source stated, the safety zones mentioned will safeguard coordination between nations or companies operating in lunar regions without needing sovereign areas.
Assuming they exist, the ironically named Artemis Accords may reflect the U.S.’s long-term interest in securing lunar and celestial resources. Reuter’s unnamed source added: “The idea is if you are going to be coming near someone’s operations, and they’ve declared safety zones around it, then you need to reach out to them in advance, consult and figure out how you can do that safely for everyone.”