Moon exploration could pose diplomacy dilemma, says NASA chief

NASA Administrator Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineThis is not the time to abandon NASA's Space Launch System Can America return to the moon by 2024? Why NASA announced and then canceled an all-woman spacewalk MORE said Thursday that the moon could be a valuable asset for future generations as the earth’s natural resources gradually dwindle, but warned that utilizing these resources could pose a diplomacy dilemma.

Bridenstine cited the Outer Space Treaty. Signed in 1967 by more than 100 countries, he said the treaty forbids any government to lay claim to the moon or a planet, while countries are allowed to use such resources.

“Under the Outer Space treaty, we are not allowed to own parts of the moon, but we can own the resources to the moon that we extract from certain parts, so it’s an interesting dilemma — it’s not even a dilemma at this point, we want it to become a dilemma, if it becomes a dilemma then we’ve become very successful,” he told Hill.TV’s Jamal Simmons and Buck Sexton on “Rising.”

The NASA chief added that private companies and governments around the world will want access to these resources, especially when it comes to water. 

In August, NASA officials confirmed in a new study the presence of frozen water on the surface of the moon.

Bridenstine said this could not only serve as drinking water, but also as valuable rocket fuel.

“Hydrogen and oxygen when cracked into its component parts is in fact the same rocket propulsion that powered the space shuttles and it’s going to power the space launch systems — the largest rocket ever built in humanity that NASA is currently building,” he told Hill.TV.

He said the initiative to utilize resources on the moon is part of a new policy created under the Trump administration, which seeks to revisit exploration of the moon.

“The president’s space policy directive, one, says we’re going to go to the moon, we’re going to go sustainably — in other words we’re going to stay — we’re going to utilize the resources of the Moon, which is a new policy for the United States of America,” Bridenstine told Hill.TV.

NASA announced on Thursday that it will partner with nine U.S. companies to build a continuous and sustained presence on the moon. This will eventually lay the framework for extending space exploration to Mars.

So far, the space chief said working with other countries through the International Space Station has helped foster important partnerships, including with rivals like Russia.

On Dec. 3, Bridenstine said NASA will launch an American astronaut into space on a Russian rocket.

“This is the one area — when you think about American foreign policy and diplomacy — terrestrially, we have all kinds of disputes, all kinds of really serious issues, but it never spills over into the space environment,” he said.

— Tess Bonn