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The International Artemis Alliance to return to the moon takes shape

The International Artemis Alliance to return to the moon takes shape
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A recent piece in Space News noted that NASA has signed an agreement with Italy for that country to participate in the Artemis return-to-the-moon program. While the details of that participation are yet to be formalized, one story in an Italian publication suggested that Italy will invest a billion euros in the undertaking.

Italy joins Japan, Australia, Canada and the European Union in what is shaping up to be a NASA-led Artemis Alliance to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972 to build a “lunar base camp” at the moon’s south pole. Astronauts will conduct science and enable commerce on Earth’s nearest neighbor as well as test technologies and practice techniques for a human mission to Mars.

The international partners are providing a great deal of value to the Artemis program. Japan, for example, will develop a pressurized rover that astronauts will use for long-distance excursions. Australia may include “adapting technologies in remote operations and mining for use in lunar missions.” Canada will provide a version of its remote manipulator arm for the lunar gateway space station. The European Space Agency is building a service module for the Orion spacecraft.

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More than likely other countries will sooner or later join the Artemis Alliance. The United Arab Emirates and Israel are two possibilities. The UAE, which has a probe called Hope headed for Mars, has announced another robotic probe, dubbed Rashid, slated for the lunar surface. Other possible members of the Artemis Alliance include India, a number of individual European countries and South Korea. India and South Korea have their own national lunar programs.

Joining the Artemis program derives a number of advantages,

First, the Artemis Alliance allows for cost sharing among the individual members. The inclusion of other countries expands the pool of talent and expertise that is available for solving the problems inherent in returning to the moon and taking advantage of access to Earth’s nearest neighbor. The model worked very well for the International Space Station (ISS).

Second, the Artemis Alliance works as an expression of American soft power. Soft power is how a nation exerts influence using political, diplomatic and economic means, as opposed to hard power, which is exerted by military means. As the “necessary country” without which a human to the moon effort is impossible, the United States gains much influence among countries also eager to explore Earth’s nearest neighbor.

Also, the Artemis Alliance provides a check on China’s lunar ambitions. To lift a phrase from President John F. Kennedy’s Rice University speech, China means to dominate space with a “hostile flag of conquest.” The American-led Artemis Alliance would hoist the “banner of freedom and peace” over the exploration of the moon. The contrast will send a powerful message to the world community.

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Finally, the Artemis Alliance will make it far less likely that the Artemis program will be cancelled by a future president or Congress. Would a President Biden, for example, cancel Artemis in a fit of pique and risk alienating allied countries that joined in the effort and committed resources to it in good faith?

The international aspect of the space station project did not prevent its opponents in Congress from trying to cancel it during the 1990s. However, cancelling Artemis may well cause some countries to join with China in that nation’s lunar ambitions. In that context, such a cancellation would have serious consequences for America’s standing in the world. The United States would be seen as an unreliable space ally, beset by ADD when it comes to deep space exploration. America’s prestige will diminish and China's will expand.

No reliable way has been found to make any large-scale, expensive space program entirely politician proof. The United States Senate cut the funding for Apollo shortly before JFK was assassinated and then quickly restored the funding after the event in Dallas. The Artemis Alliance simply provides an argument for keeping the return-to-the-moon program going. Getting that first woman and next man on the lunar surface will take the tireless work of supporters of the effort to make it happen. 

At some point, Artemis will become as widely accepted and supported as the ISS, which endured two near-death experiences. The Artemis Alliance will serve a major role in ensuring that becomes the case.

Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as "The Moon, Mars and Beyond." He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. He is published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times, and the Washington Post, among other venues.