Russia's ISS Progress 78 cargo craft is pictured docked to the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module as the International Space Station orbited 273 miles above the south Pacific Ocean into an orbital sunset. [ Photo © nasa.gov ]
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Artemis and The Hunt for The Moon

For over 20 years the International Space Station has been a beacon n outer space, bestowing much benefit to humanity through the space agencies of the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and the participating countries of the European Space Agency. But, it has been reported that the work of the ISS is coming to an end

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Artemis smiled. “You have done well, my lieutenant. You have made me proud, and all those Hunters who perished in my service will never be forgotten. They will achieve Elysium, I am sure.“…Rick Riordan

Artemis, daughter of Zeus and Leto, is known in Greek mythology as the goddess of the hunt: of wilderness; and wildlife. Artemis is also the goddess of the Moon.

As the lore goes, Artemis was a virgin who only loved her hunting partner Orion.

Artemis is also the name of the gigantic rocket 37 stories in height named by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that will be launched on 29 August 2022 on it way to the Moon.  The rocket was presumably so named also because Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo. There is a distinct link between the twins in astronautical terms as the first Moon Program was named Apollo which started in 1961 by NASA culminating in two men walking on the Moon in 1969. 

The Artemis Programme will be carried out with the advanced Space Launch System (SLS) rockets and will be in three stages: Artemis 1 will be a test flight of the SLS rocket with the Orion spacecraft with no crew; Artemis 2 will fly SLS and Orion with a crew past the Moon, then circle it and return to Earth. This trip will be the farthest any human has gone into space; Artemis 3 will send a crew with the first woman and the next man to land on the Moon.

The broad aim and objective of the Artemis Program is to learn more about the Moon, the Sun and Earth and be a steppingstone for ultimate travel to Mars.  Within this broad goal is the search for water on the Moon with a view to using it and ultimately breaking down the components of water – Hydrogen and Oxygen – and using Hydrogen to power rockets and spacecraft for distant galactic travel. Other objectives are: to study the Moon to discover its mysteries; learn how to live and work on the surface of another celestial body where astronauts are just three days from home; and test the technologies that is needed to carry out missions to Mars with astronauts, which could involve a roundtrip of three years.

The Artemis Programme involves 12 countries including the United States and more are expected to join.  It has its genesis in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which sets out the fundamental principle –  “the freedom principle”  – that all countries have equal rights to explore outer space without any prejudices in accordance with international law. All countries have equal rights to transparency, interoperability, emergency assistance, the release of scientific data, the use of space resources, and the management of orbital debris. Under this broad legal and regulatory astronautical umbrella, the Artemis Accords were originally signed on October 13, 2020, by the United States, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. These Accords have further opened opportunities of space diplomacy and international cooperation that were made possible by the International Space Station (ISS) Intergovernmental Agreement signed in 1998.

The United States and China have, in their policies, recognized the preeminent principle – that space exploration should be for the benefit of all humankind.  This is a good starting point. 

For over 20 years the ISS has been a beacon of outer space, bestowing much benefit to humanity through the space agencies of the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and the participating countries of the European Space Agency. It has been reported that the work of the ISS is coming to an end and that NASA intends to keep operating the International Space Station until the end of 2030 after which the ISS would be crashed into a remote part of the Pacific Ocean known as Point Nemo.

To get some perspective on why space exploration is a multi billion-dollar expense which seemingly bears no immediate benefit to humanity, one has to go back in history.  In 2004, in the United States, NASA released its Vision for Space Exploration. The Vision moves towards its fundamental goal – which is to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program. To achieve this goal, the United States intends to: implement a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to explore the solar system and beyond; extend human presence across the solar system, starting with a human return to the Moon by the year 2020, in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations; develop the innovative technologies, knowledge, and infrastructures both to explore and to support decisions about the destinations for human exploration; and promote international and commercial participation in exploration to further U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests.  The vision prompted NASA to engage, between 2004 and 2007, with other space agencies in informal discussions on modalities, goals, possibilities, competencies and timeline for space exploration in the future. 

This vision is not unique to the United States.  The European Space Agency has its Aurora space exploration programme. China, India, Japan and Russia have ambitious national projects to explore the Moon or Mars, while future national missions are being discussed in Canada, Germany, Italy, Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom.

In 2009, the United States Human Spaceflight Plans Committee (more popularly called the Augustine Committee, named after Norman R. Augustine, Chairman) in its report recognized that space exploration has become a global enterprise and that in the face of a burgeoning commercial space industry which could be encouraged to engage in space exploration, costs incurred by the government could be vastly reduced in the implementation of its space programme. The Committee also opined that the United States could lead a bold new international effort in the human exploration of space with the involvement of international partners.

The current vision of the leadership in the United States on space exploration, was articulated by President Obama on 15 April 2010, – that eventually there would be a manned mission on Mars.  President Obama did not give  a time line for this occurrence. This is in contrast to the declaration of President Kennedy in 1961 when he said about the moon missions: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth”.

Space exploration has always been, and will be driven by the need for political and technological one-upmanship and, as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in the March/April 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs said: “If the United States commits to the goal of reaching Mars, it will almost certainly do so in reaction to the progress of other nations – as was the case with NASA, the Apollo programme, and the project that became the International Space Station.   For the past decade, I have joked with colleagues that the United States would land astronauts on Mars in a year or two if only the Chinese would leak a memo that revealed plans to build military bases there”.  De Grasse Tyson went on to say that this joke should not be taken lightly as the Chinese have released an official strategy paper in which they claim that they have a five-year plan to advance their space capabilities which include the launching of space laboratories, manned spaceships and space freighters and engaging in other activities of advanced space exploration.

It is a truism that no individual country or group of countries can regulate outer space, which is governed by a patchwork of international treaties, resolutions of the United Nations and industry standards.  However, international relations and domestic policy drive a nation’s direction towards outer space exploration and reflect individual State interests. The United States, which incontrovertibly is the leader among all spacefaring nations (which include  Brazil, Russia, India and China, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, Israel the European Space Agency, Ukraine and Iran), is responsible for 75 percent of space funding worldwide and owns or operates 40 percent of all active spacecraft in orbit. 

Garold Larson, Alternate Representative to the First Committee of the 64th Session of the United Nations Assembly held on 19 October 2009, succinctly outlined the policy of the United States on space exploration.  The foremost principle outlined by Larson was that the United States will continue to uphold the principles of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which the United States recognized as providing fundamental guidelines required for the free access to and use of outer space by all nations for peaceful purposes.  He went on to say that the United States will continue to take an active role in identifying and implementing cooperative efforts with established and emerging members of the international spacefaring community to ensure the safety of the space assets of all nations and also expand cooperation with other like-minded spacefaring nations and with the private sector to identify and protect against intentional and unintentional threats to its space capabilities.

The European Union, in 2008, published a draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, which it later revised in September 2010. The fundamental postulate of this code is that member states should establish policies and procedures to minimize the possibility of accidents or any form of harmful interference with other States’ right to the peaceful exploration and use of outer space. The Code applies three basic principles in pursuance of its overall objective:  freedom of access to space for peaceful purposes; preservation of the security and integrity of space objects in orbit; and due consideration for the legitimate defense interests of states.

Here is my take.

There are two fundamental issues. Firstly, space exploration must continue for technology to progress.    Above all it will give humankind a sense of perspective, as to who we are, where we have come from, and where we are headed. Secondly, since space diplomacy is an incipient but rapidly evolving process, the key to international cooperation would lie in relations between the United States and China.  Both countries have, in their policies, recognized the preeminent principle – that space exploration should be for the benefit of all humankind.  This is a good starting point. 

A joint space programme between key players of North America, Europe and Asia could greatly stabilize Asia and very likely forge reconciliation between China and Japan and obviate burgeoning rivalry between China and India. Given the fact that both countries – The United States and China – had adopted (for what it’s worth) what they call a “constructive partnership” in world affairs, the United States could, with the association of a strong Europe and Russia, engage in inclusive discussions with China on collaborative involvement in space exploration.

Dr. Abeyratne is the author of Aviation and the Carbon Trade, Aviation and the Environment, and Aviation and Climate Change: In Search of a Global Market Based Option.

1 Comment

  1. The early space treaties, including the Outer Space Treaty, were negotiated and adopted in the sixties during the Cold War and when only the U.S. and the Soviet Union were space powers. That being the case, there is every hope that further agreements and programs for international cooperative space activities could well be agreed upon.

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