By Cody Knipfer –

In the half-century since the lunar Apollo Program, subsequent generations of space scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and policymakers have eagerly awaited a return now promised by NASA’s Artemis Program. As humanity’s second-ever “personal” journey to the lunar surface, Artemis will have profound and global cultural and social impacts.

Most notably, it will represent the first practical implementation of a new, dynamic “era” in global space governance.

Certainly, we hope Artemis’ successes will be a source of inspiration in an increasingly turbulent world; a cause of reflection on our common purpose, our shared heritage and future, and the possibilities achieved through focused cooperation. Artemis’ challenging programmatic character – a long-term, sustainable human presence on the yet-to-be-explored lunar south pole – will necessitate pioneering advancements in engineering. It will create novel opportunities for discovery by tomorrow’s lunar geologists and scientists. Through a deliberate private-public architecture, Artemis is catalyzing a new
wave of space commercialization and democratization, with ever-more ambitious private plans being drawn for lunar space.

These will be notable and worthwhile achievements in their own right. Equally significant, if often underappreciated, the role Artemis will play in solidifying evolution in the governance regime has implications that will define humanity’s space endeavors for decades, if not longer, to come. As with any international regime, the norms, customs, regulations, and laws that underpin the exploration and use of space shape the scope of cooperation, competition, and behavior within it. With multiple sovereign programs of lunar exploration underway, Artemis among them, long-lingering questions of governance are being revisited and reconsidered through necessity’s sake. What is the legal nature of space resource extraction and use? Do we – and how do we – protect and preserve lunar heritage sites? How are competing claims of lunar site occupation and use adjudicated under the principle of non- appropriation? How do we ensure lunar activities are deconflicted? These are but a handful of outstanding issues to be addressed for a more crowded, and more international, lunar surface.

Valiant efforts toward solutions are underway – among them, the U.S.-led Artemis Accords, a “practical interpretation” of the Outer Space Treaty’s principles; NASA’s lunar heritage protection guidelines and Lunar Landing and Operations Policy Analysis; and literature by civil society, such as SGAC’s “EAGLE Lunar Governance Report” and For All Moonkind’s “Declaration Regarding Cultural Heritage in Outer Space.”

Yet, in the absence of distinct international law borne from the glacial U.N. process, these products are today akin to untried cases in common law – simply “words on paper,” assumptions agreed upon until put to test.

Norms are shaped through behavior, and there is invaluable weight behind activity. Through its execution, the Artemis Program will translate principles into genuine practice, these ideas into implementation. Artemis will begin building a body of practical evidence on how the Moon not only should, but is, governed. With that small step, Artemis will define a behavioral future for the thousands of lunar explorers yet to come. For space governance, that impact is a giant leap.

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