Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico are to contribute to the new era of space exploration led by the United States

Spain and five Ibero-American nations sign the Artemis Agreements to take astronauts to the Moon

PHOTO/NASA-Jackie McGuinness - La ministra de Ciencia, Diana Morant, firma la adhesión de España a los Acuerdos Artemis en presencia del presidente del Gobierno, el administrador de la NASA, Bill Nelson, y la embajadora de Estados Unidos en Madrid, Julissa Reynoso
photo_camera PHOTO/NASA-Jackie McGuinness - Science Minister Diana Morant signs Spain's accession to the Artemis Agreements in the presence of the Prime Minister, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and US Ambassador to Madrid Julissa Reynoso

The exploration of the Moon is so fashionable on the global geostrategic scene that the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and even Spain have decided to take part in it.  

The five Spanish-speaking nations and the country of Rio de Janeiro have expressed their desire to take part in the so-called lunar decade and have joined the Artemis Agreements, a set of principles that the United States has put on the table to promote cooperation and responsible behaviour in the exploration and non-military use of the Moon.

The Artemis Agreements are the framework devised by NASA, the National Space Council and the US State Department to demonstrate global space leadership and enable third countries to collaborate with varying degrees of participation in the new era of space exploration that is dawning before humanity's eyes. And the first step is the return of astronauts to the Moon. 

The main novelty of the Artemis Agreements is that Washington's return to the Earth's natural satellite is not intended to be done alone, as occurred with the Apollo programme in the 1960s and 1970s. "The United States is returning to the moon, but not alone, as before, but accompanied by an international team", summarised the director general of the recently created Spanish Space Agency (ESA), Miguel Belló, on the occasion of the visit to Spain by NASA administrator Bill Nelson.

During his European tour, Bill Nelson stopped off in Spain on 29 May to visit the ESA headquarters in Seville and meet its directors. The following day he travelled to Madrid for a meeting with King Felipe VI and Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. During his presence at the Moncloa, the Minister of Science and Innovation, Diana Morant, who is also President of the ESA, signed the Artemis Agreements that brought Spain into the club of signatories. She later met with the Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles. 

PHOTO/Casa Rosada - Argentina ha sido la última de las 27 naciones en suscribir los Acuerdos Artemis. En imagen, el administrador de la NASA, Bill Nelson, y el presidente de la República, Alberto Fernández, tras la firma del documento el 27 de julio
PHOTO/Casa Rosada - Argentina was the last of the 27 nations to sign the Artemis Agreements. Pictured are NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Argentine President Alberto Fernández after the signing of the document on 27 July

The governance architecture remains to be defined

But what is President Sánchez's government committing to? The Artemis Agreements are a kind of practical decalogue of principles, guidelines and best practices to ensure safe and sustainable exploration of the Moon and beyond, as the scope, duration and safety of astronauts taking part in manned missions expands.  

However, as Violeta Gandullo, a lawyer specialising in space law, stresses, the Artemis Agreements "are not binding from the point of view of international law, but that does not mean that they do not have a normative character, which they do, and their impact on society is enormous and positive".

In the last three months the agreements have been signed by the Czech Republic, India, Ecuador, Argentina and Spain, which as of 8 August brings the number of signatory nations to 27. Faced with such a large number of participants, NASA organised several workshops in the United States and London at the end of June and beginning of July for the countries to present their thoughts on the exploration of the Moon and the possible contributions of each nation. The Spanish Agency sent a representative, "but it has not yet been finalised what Spain's contribution will be", confirmed the ESA. 

PHOTO/NASA-JSC - La misión Artemis II de la NASA está programada para noviembre de 2024, pero sin llegar a la superficie de la Luna. Artemis III será la que en 2025 pondrá a una mujer y un hombre de color cerca del Polo Sur lunar
PHOTO/NASA-JSC - NASA's Artemis II mission is scheduled for November 2024, but without reaching the surface of the Moon. Artemis III will be the one in 2025 that will put a woman and a man of colour near the lunar South Pole

In essence, what are the principles of action advocated by the aforementioned agreements? They can be summarised in a dozen points, the first of which is to "ensure that space missions serve peaceful purposes in accordance with international law". It also calls for "transparency" in space exploration plans and policies, the pursuit of "interoperability" between different systems and technologies and "providing assistance" in the event of space emergencies, as outlined in the 1968 agreement on the return of astronauts. 

They stress the need to "record" objects launched into space and to "disseminate" scientific data. In the pursuit of cordial relations, one of the stipulations calls for "avoiding harmful interference" between the lunar operations of different countries, as well as "avoiding" potential conflicts through the "creation of safety zones".

PHOTO/NASA-Aubrey Gemignani - La vicepresidenta y ministra de Exteriores de Colombia, Marta Lucía Ramírez, rubrica el 10 de mayo de 2022 los Acuerdos Artemis en presencia de la administradora adjunta de la NASA, la antigua astronauta Pamela Melroy
PHOTO/NASA-Aubrey Gemignani - Colombian Vice President and Foreign Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez signs the Artemis Agreements on 10 May 2022 in the presence of NASA Deputy Administrator, former astronaut Pamela Melroy

27 countries from five continents

It calls on signatories to "respect" UN guidelines on space debris mitigation and, in relation to heritage, to "protect" historically significant sites and artefacts on the Moon.  

One of the paragraphs included in the agreements is the subject of much controversy in international space law. Some even call it "imperialist". Article 10.2 states that, in accordance with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, "the signatories affirm that the extraction of space resources does not inherently constitute national appropriation under Article 2 of the Outer Space Treaty, and that contracts and other legal instruments relating to space resources should be compatible with that Treaty".

PHOTO/NASA-Joel Kowsky - La segunda de a bordo de la NASA, Pamela Melroy ha organizado al menos tres reuniones de trabajo entre finales de junio y principios de julio para recibir aportaciones internacionales a su plan de exploración lunar
PHOTO/NASA-Joel Kowsky - NASA's second-in-command, Pamela Melroy has organised at least three working meetings between late June and early July to receive international input on its lunar exploration plan

However, for some jurists, such content contravenes Article 2 of the 1967 Treaty - considered the Magna Carta of outer space - which states that "outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall not be subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, use or occupation, or in any other manner". Of course, China's and Russia's views are diametrically opposed to the agreements. 

Be that as it may, the aim of the Artemis agreements, Violeta Gandullo points out, is "to facilitate research and exploration activities in outer space and to allow the development of commercial activities such as mining, which is one of the objectives of New Space and allows new private operators to enter into the exercise and development of space activities".

PHOTO/NASA-Keegan Barber - El ministro de Exteriores de Ecuador, Gustavo Manrique, firma el 21 de junio la adhesión del Gobierno del presidente Guillermo Lasso a las reglas de comportamiento que emanan de los Acuerdos Artemis
PHOTO/NASA-Keegan Barber - Ecuador's Foreign Minister Gustavo Manrique signs on 21 June the adherence of President Guillermo Lasso's government to the rules of conduct emanating from the Artemis Agreements

As of 7 August, the signatories to the Artemis Agreements numbered 27 countries, nine are NATO/European Union countries: Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom; two others are the United States' main allies in Oceania: Australia and New Zealand. Eight are Asian, including four from the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the Emirates and Israel) and four from the Far East: India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.  

PHOTO/NASA - Estas son las 27 naciones de los cinco continentes que hasta el 8 de agosto se han sumado a los principios, directrices y mejores prácticas que emanan de los Acuerdos Artemis liderados por Estados Unidos
PHOTO/NASA - As of 8 August, 27 nations from five continents have signed up to the principles, guidelines and best practices emanating from the US-led Artemis Agreements

Five are from Central and South America: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico. Africa is represented by Nigeria and Rwanda. Ukraine is also a signatory. And the list is set to grow as NASA continues preparations for the first manned mission to the moon in the 21st century. If all goes well, it will be in November 2024, but not yet on the lunar surface, which is planned for the following year. 

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