The Moon and its relationship to Earth are unique. Created by an impact event approximately 4.5 billion years ago, the Moon has shaped the evolution of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, contributing to the habitability of Earth. Every human culture has expressed the influence of the Moon through its cosmology, spirituality, science, and creative and social life. For these reasons, the exploration and use of the Moon can truly be the province of all humankind.
Now, the Moon, through activities on or around it, is poised to play a new role in facilitating human exploration and use of the solar system and enhancing the long-term sustainability of outer space activities. These activities have the potential to contribute to the future benefit of humankind through the development of new technologies, access to rare resources, and deepening human understanding of the solar system and our place within it.
The promise of the Apollo missions waned when humans left the Moon in 1972 and did not return. In this new phase of human engagement with the Moon, there are multiple stakeholders, emerging technologies, and new goals – including the intent to stay. It is essential that these activities proceed prudently and ethically to reaffirm the confidence of the people of Earth. However, even building on experience gained from over 60 years of space activities, standards and legal norms are needed to guide these activities.
The Global Expert Group on Sustainable Lunar Activities (GEGSLA) was established to promote and support the development of lunar activities in a safe and sustainable manner. Its vision is to enable globally inclusive participation in this next stage of human endeavors in space. For this purpose, the GEGSLA has engaged widely with lunar stakeholders from industry, government, and academia to develop the Recommended Framework and Key Elements for Peaceful and Sustainable Lunar Activities.
The Recommended Framework and Key Elements is designed as a guide for well-balanced lunar projects and offers recommendations for how to implement safe and sustainable lunar activities through norm- setting, coordination, and management. It builds on principles established in international space law, relevant UN outer space treaties and soft law documents (e.g. the UN COPUOS Guidelines for the Long Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities (2019)), and other distinctive international or multilateral agreements (e.g. the Artemis Accords), national legislation and regulations, and guidance documents (e.g. the Building Blocks for the Development of an International Framework on Space Resource Activities (2019), the MVA Best Practices on Sustainable Lunar Activities (2019), and the Vancouver Recommendations on Space Mining (2020)).
Documents such as the UN Long Term Sustainability Guidelines have developed higher-order principles to guide humanity’s engagement with outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies. The GEGSLA recognized that the next steps forward might require more detailed elaboration. The GEGSLA seeks to extend existing principles into a framework that can effectively facilitate dialogue and cooperation among multiple lunar stakeholders. The participation of the space industry was vital in verifying sustainable practices and crafting practical recommendations that act as incentives rather than barriers.
The Recommended Framework and Key Elements can act both as a guide for designing lunar activities and as a benchmark against which to gauge the success of those activities in achieving sustainability. The Recommended Framework is aimed at providing transparency, accountability, and certainty for all stakeholders, present and future.
The Recommended Framework and Key Elements are not a proscriptive set of principles to regulate all potential types of lunar activity. Instead, the Recommended Framework and Key Elements is a living document which focuses on lunar activities that are likely to occur in the near and medium terms, within a vision of the long-term expansion of human activities in lunar orbit and on the lunar surface for the benefit of all peoples irrespective of the degree of their economic or scientific development.
In eleven chapters, the Recommended Framework and Key Elements cover coordination and management; information sharing; safe operations and lunar environmental protection; compatibility and interoperability; lunar governance; benefits for humanity; sustaining the lunar economy; and human Interactions. Moreover, two additional documents advance the work done by the main GEGSLA outcome: the Technical and Operational Practices and Case Studies on Peaceful and Sustainable Lunar Activities and A List of Future Issues of Sustainable Lunar Activities which are not covered by the Recommended Framework and Key Elements for Peaceful and Sustainable Lunar Activities and recommended it for further discussions at a later stage. While not object of consensus within the GEGSLA plenary, as indicated in the Chair’s Explanatory Note on Annexes, these two documents constitute a critical complementary to the overall work.
There is no doubt that exploring and using the Moon in the present era will present unforeseen challenges, testing the limits of human ingenuity and cooperation. It is the hope of the GEGSLA that the Recommended Framework and Key Elements will provide the next steps forward in ensuring the peaceful and sustainable foundation of lunar activities.