Beyond The Fist Bump, Progress On Artemis Accords For Space Exploration

When President Joe Biden visited Saudi Arabia last week, media attention naturally turned to the high cost of gasoline and the meaning of a fist-bump greeting. Lost in the shuffle was a significant new development regarding the Artemis Accords, which is the NASA-lead project aimed at establishing a gateway to space exploration on the Moon.

What Is The Artemis Accords?

The Artemis Accords sounds like an invention of original Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, except that it’s a real thing that grew out of the Artemis mission, which is the NASA program that seeks to land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon, as a precursor to other things.

“We will collaborate with commercial and international partners and establish the first long-term presence on the Moon. Then, we will use what we learn on and around the Moon to take the next giant leap: sending the first astronauts to Mars,” NASA explains.

“We’re going back to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new generation of explorers: the Artemis Generation. While maintaining American leadership in exploration, we will build a global alliance and explore deep space for the benefit of all,” they add.

The Artemis Accords is the official expression of the international collaboration envisioned by NASA. Rooted in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the Artemis Accords aims at safety, transparency, interoperability, and deconfliction.

In case you’re wondering, Russia has yet to sign on to the Artemis Accords. As of the beginning of July, the 20 nations signing on to the Accords were Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia Wants In

That was up until last week. On July 16, the US Department of State announced that Saudi Arabia has become the 21st member, having signed the Artemis Accords on July 14.

“As Accords signatories, state actors advance responsible behavior in outer space, including through the registration of space objects, deconfliction of activities, release of scientific data, and provision of emergency assistance. Together, signatories will reduce uncertainty and increase the safety of space operations to facilitate the sustainable use of space to the benefit of all humankind,” the US Department of State explained in a press release.

For the record, the notorious Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman was not present at the signing, nor was President Biden.

The Accords were signed on behalf of Saudi Arabia by Mohammed Saud al-Tamimi, CEO of the Saudi Space Commission. The ceremony was witnessed by a host of dignitaries representing Saudi Arabia and the US, along with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who participated remotely.

Why Is The Significance Of Saudi Arabia?

What with preventing the next armed insurrection and pushing back against a rogue US Supreme Court and a fossil-friendly US Senator while managing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine to say nothing of monkey pox, the Biden administration certainly has its hands full these days.

Nevertheless, the Biden administration is plowing full steam ahead with the Artemis Accords. With Saudi Arabia on board, the administration is able to demonstrate significant momentum on the project.

Saudi Arabia is the seventh nation to sign the Artemis Accords this year, and NASA anticipates that the oil-rich nation’s interest in space collaboration will encourage other leading economies to join.

“Today Saudi Arabia adds its voice to a diverse and growing set of nations. Together we can ensure that humanity’s rapid expansion into space, toward the Moon and destinations beyond, will be done peaceably, safely, and in full accordance with international law,” explained NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

“Additional countries will sign the Artemis Accords in the months and years ahead, as the United States continues to work with international partners to establish a safe, peaceful, and prosperous future in space,” NASA explains. “Working with both new and existing partners will add new energy and capabilities to ensure the entire world can benefit from our journey of exploration and discovery.”

The Artemis Accords & Global Decarbonization

This could play out in any number of ways. In a best-case scenario, the Artemis Accords makes allies, at least on paper, of disparate players in the international effort against Russian aggression in Ukraine. In particular, the signing of the Accords could represent another step towards normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, with a potential ripple effect on the willingness of both nations to step up against Russia.

Considering Saudi Arabia’s power position in the fossil energy landscape, its newfound interest in collaborating on space projects could make it more amenable to offsetting the impact of Russia’s war on the global oil market.

That remains to be seen. To complicate matters, Saudi Arabia has signaled that it does not want to be caught holding the fossil bag when the rest of the world eventually moves on to space-based solar, green hydrogen, and other new clean technologies that decentralize energy production and distribution, bleeding geopolitical power out of the Middle East. Back in 2015 the nation expressed an interest in the solar powered desalination field, and it has compiled an impressive portfolio of solar activity since then.

As for Mohamed bin Salman, his alleged hand in the 2018 murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Kashoggi is just one aspect of a repressive regime in Saudi Arabia. Last year, Human Rights Watch detailed a long list of other examples including travel bans, arbitrary arrests, harsh sentencing for peaceful dissent, and allegations of torture.

In 2019, word also emerged that the Saudi government sanctioned app-enabled tracking and tracing of women, as part of the male guardianship system.

That should be reason enough to keep the country at arm’s length, all else being equal. However, the reality is that nothing has ever been equal in international relations. Russia touched off World War III when it launched an unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The name of the game is limiting the scope of the war as much as possible, and stabilizing the global energy market is part of the plan.

Besides, the US is barreling towards a similar male guardianship system of its own, complete with high tech tracking and tracing, thanks to the Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court.

Pot, meet kettle.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image: The Artemis Accords aims at international collaboration on a permanent Moon colony, as a gateway to further exploration (photo courtesy of NASA).


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