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Why France signing NASA’s lunar exploration pact is the most important signature yet - The Verge

Why France signing NASA’s lunar exploration pact is the most important signature yet - The Verge

On June 7th, France, one of Europe’s biggest spacefaring nations, signed NASA’s Artemis Accords — the most significant signature yet for the international agreement on lunar exploration.

On Tuesday evening, France officially signed onto NASA’s Artemis Accords — the space agency’s set of guidelines and principles for how the US and other countries should explore the Moon in the future. France’s addition, long considered a big get for the Artemis Accords, brings the total number of signatory countries to 20, strengthening the international agreement ahead of NASA’s planned return to the lunar surface this decade.

When the finalized Artemis Accords were presented during the Trump administration in October 2020, NASA announced that eight countries had signed onto the document — including the United States. But there were some notable absences from that list. Two of the world’s largest space superpowers — China and Russia — have not signed, and Russia’s space chief has made it clear that the country is uninterested in partnering with NASA on its lunar exploration efforts. Two of Europe’s biggest space nations, France and Germany, weren’t on board either.

Now, after two years, France has finally come to the table, and the country is considered the most significant signatory yet for the Accords. “It was critical to get France on the same page as us for our lunar exploration and other plans, because they’re the dominant player in Europe along with Germany,” Gabriel Swiney, a senior policy advisor at NASA and one of the original authors of the Accords, tells The Verge. France is the largest contributor to the budget of the European Space Agency. The US also has a long-standing partnership with France’s space agency, CNES, and the country plays a pivotal role in operating the launch site and rockets for Europe’s primary launch provider, Arianespace.

France wasn’t completely sold on the Accords at first. “They have been open about the need for clarity on some of the issues with the Artemis Accords,” Swiney says. Now, it seems the country’s issues with the agreement have been resolved, giving the Accords a major stamp of approval from a once-skeptical nation.

Though the Artemis Accords are an international document, they’re intrinsically linked to NASA’s lunar ambitions. The name Artemis comes from NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface as early as 2025. While the timing of that landing is subject to change, NASA saw the need to have a preemptive international agreement with other nations before humans walked on the Moon again, detailing what rules and standards should be applied to lunar exploration. “What we’re trying to do is establish norms of behavior that every nation can agree to,” former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in 2020. NASA collaborated with the US State Department to come up with the final rules.

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Updated: 2 weeks ago

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