When Donald Trump arrived at the White House in 2016, he appointed Jim Bridenstine to head NASA. A far from trivial action that drove the American space agency to an old goal that we had almost forgotten: the moon.
When he took office, Bridenstine unpacked the project constellation, which started under the Bush presidency in the early 2000s but was abandoned by his successor, Barack Obama. Renowned artemisthe program has the same goal of sending men back to the moon, a first since the early 1970s.
But while NASA is working to return to the moon, the US space agency needs great support, and it may have found it. So far, 19 actors have joined the project. States that had signed the so-called “Artemis” treaties.
But early last week we learned that France will also join this agreement. With the signature of Philippe Baptiste, President of the CNES, France is the 20th country to accede to this agreement. A signature that nonetheless raises questions, particularly in France, where not all of the provisions of this treaty are welcomed with open arms.
Not everyone is happy with this announcement.
If we don’t see the evil in this text on Philippe Baptiste’s side, the latter also welcomed this signature in Washington: “For both our scientific community and our industry, this new framework will enable us to face new challenges and continue to be among the great space powers.”
However, the president of the CNES is not unanimous in his own camp. In fact, some actors fear that these new agreements will challenge the Outer Space Treaty signed in 1967 by the vast majority of countries around the world. In particular, one of the most eye-catching points of the treaty states that “safety zones” could be established in the coming years.
Also the moon, of course, but also on Mars or asteroids, which would be the subject of missions of all kinds by NASA or one of the 20 signatory agencies. Should make it possible on paper to avoid these “safety zones”. “Harmful Disorder”, Many actors in the space world fear that this measure will ultimately run counter to the principle of “non-state ownership” established in 1967.
A treaty that makes France a major player?
If on the one hand the treaty was intended to ensure that France was at the forefront of the return of the man on the moon (Hello Thomas Pesquet), others the pessimists believe that this treaty will allow NASA to use the CNES as its vassal, as well like a private company that the American agency contracts with.
This text should make it possible to “cement” France’s commitment to lunar exploration, assures Pascale Ultré-Guérard, deputy program director in the strategy department of the CNES. The text, presented by NASA to its historic partners in 2020, was never signed by Russia or China, who see it as a “threat to their sovereignty.”