When they were first publicized by NASA earlier this year, the agency’s Artemis Accords seemed harmless and trivial, almost self-evident. These tenets state, among other things, that emergency assistance will be rendered to foreign astronauts if they are endangered or in distress, that planning for space travel will take place transparently and that research findings will be published in a timely fashion—with these steps taken, of course, for the benefit of all humankind.

The Artemis Accords are NASA’s rules to which all international partners must adhere if they wish to participate in the space agency’s Artemis program, which seeks to send new crews to Earth’s moon—and eventually beyond. In addition to the U.S., seven nations have already signed on.

According to NASA, those who do not agree to the accords cannot participate. In any case, signatures are merely a formality. At least, that is the way the agency’s administrator Jim Bridenstine sees it. “Any responsible space-faring nation should be able to abide by these principles,” he averred in mid-October at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), an annual meeting that was held virtually this year.

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