NASA drafts a peace treaty for space

Introducing the Artemis Accords.

Image source: NASA
  • NASA proposes an updated treaty for peaceful cooperation in space.
  • The Artemis Accords aim to address potential off-planet conflicts before they happen, modernizing previous agreements.
  • The proposal was prompted by the U.S. effort to return to the Moon, India's attempts to establish a presence there, and China's current Chang'e-4 mission.

We've really just taken baby steps into space, and already our off-planet activity is making it look a bit like the Wild West up there. It's not just government-sponsored science orbiting the planet, but also craft launched by private space entrepreneurs looking to score major paydays by being the first ones in. Look up at the right time of the evening to see a glittering wagon train of Starlink satellites traversing the night skies just because Elon Musk says so. Competition is already heating up between nations and industries for presumed space resources.

NASA hopes this isn't how it has to be, or how it will be, if governments and industry just hit the pause button long enough to think things through. In a bid to get a sensible conversation started, the U.S. space agency has just proposed a comprehensive treaty for Earthlings in space: The Artemis Accords. It is designed as an expansion and supplement to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

How far the Accords get depends on the wisdom of its proposed signatories, of course. Humanity — Remember us? Big fans of greed, competition, and self-destructive behavior? — has a not-great track record when it comes to doing the smart thing, but the Artemis Accords are a good start.

The Artemis Accords

https://unsplash.com/photos/UFqKI4QWd2k

NASA describes the Accords as "Principles for a Safe, Peaceful, and Prosperous Future." The anticipated American return to the moon by 2024 serves as the reason to begin addressing the peaceful use of space at this moment. China's Chang'e-4 mission is there now, and India plans another attempt at a lunar landing of its Chandrayaan-3 mission.

The idea is for Artemis to be the foundation of a voluntary partnership between relevant entities in establishing a "sustainable and robust" presence on the Moon, and reducing human conflict in space going forward.

"With numerous countries and private sector players conducting missions and operations in cislunar space, it's critical to establish a common set of principles to govern the civil exploration and use of outer space. International space agencies that join NASA in the Artemis program will do so by executing bilateral Artemis Accords agreements, which will describe a shared vision for principles, grounded in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to create a safe and transparent environment which facilitates exploration, science, and commercial activities for all of humanity to enjoy."

The Artemis Accords are divided into 10 sections:

Peaceful Purposes

Image source: NASA

NASA considers the core of the Artemis program to be adherence to the principles laid out in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 that commits signatories to the use of space for peaceful purposes and to foster cooperation.

The earlier document doesn't allow signing nations to:

  • Place in orbit around the Earth or other celestial bodies any nuclear weapons or objects carrying WMD.
  • Install WMD on celestial bodies or station WMD in outer space in any other manner.
  • Establish military bases or installations, test "any type of weapons," or conduct military exercises on the moon and other celestial bodies.
Since that treaty, it's been heartening to see personnel from the world over working together in the International Space Station and craft from individual nations.

Transparency

Image source: Gregg Newton/Getty Images

Artemis requires partners to be open about their policies, plans, and activities in space.

Interoperability

On Earth, we can't even agree of screwheads. Seen here: slot screwhead, Philips screwhead, Robertson screwhead, hexagonal screwhead

Image source: Big Think

NASA is calling in Artemis for the development of open international standards that would allow interoperability between partners' hardware. Common standards allow for an easier exchange of data between devices, simpler connectivity and repair, and reduces the need for each partner to devise its own method of achieving shared tasks.

Emergency Assistance

ambulance

Image source: OgnjenO/Shutterstock/Big Think

Artemis builds upon the 1968 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space. Partners must commit to making every reasonable effort to aid astronauts in distress.

Registration of Space Objects

satellite over Earth

Image source: Vadim Sadovski/Neil Hubert/Shutterstock/Big Think

In order to keep everyones' craft out of each others' way, and to help ensure the safety of everyone and everything up there, Artemis requires signers to register their space objects. The U.N estimates that about 87 percent of space objects are currently registered.

Release of Scientific Data

Image source: NASA

Artemis requires signatories to openly share their scientific findings for the benefit of humanity as a whole. NASA already does this.

Protecting Heritage

Image source: NASA

As off-planet historical sites add up — the U.S. moon landing site is one — Artemis partners agree to protect such locations for their shared historical value.

Space Resources

Image source: M-SUR/Shutterstock

This requirement may turn out to be contentious given the potentially profits involved: An agreement to share access to resources in accordance with Articles II, VI, and XI of the Outer Space Treaty.

Deconfliction of Activities

Image source: AleksandrMorrisovich/Shutterstock/Big Think

Artemis partners must agree to afford other nations "due regard," and participate in notification and coordination with other parities to avoid harmful interference with each others' activities.

Orbital Debris and Spacecraft Disposal

Artemis partners agree to collectively plan for the reentry of orbital debris and to develop safe systems for the disposal of craft no longer in service.

You can download a [copy of the Artemis Accords here].

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Photos: Courtesy of Let Grow
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
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  • Let Grow, a non-profit promoting independence as a critical part of childhood, ran an "Independence Challenge" essay contest for kids. Here are a few of the amazing essays that came in.
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The surprise reason sleep-deprivation kills lies in the gut

New research establishes an unexpected connection.

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulate in the gut of sleep-deprived fruit flies, one (left), seven (center) and ten (right) days without sleep.

Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
Surprising Science
  • A study provides further confirmation that a prolonged lack of sleep can result in early mortality.
  • Surprisingly, the direct cause seems to be a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species in the gut produced by sleeplessness.
  • When the buildup is neutralized, a normal lifespan is restored.

We don't have to tell you what it feels like when you don't get enough sleep. A night or two of that can be miserable; long-term sleeplessness is out-and-out debilitating. Though we know from personal experience that we need sleep — our cognitive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune functioning depend on it — a lack of it does more than just make you feel like you want to die. It can actually kill you, according to study of rats published in 1989. But why?

A new study answers that question, and in an unexpected way. It appears that the sleeplessness/death connection has nothing to do with the brain or nervous system as many have assumed — it happens in your gut. Equally amazing, the study's authors were able to reverse the ill effects with antioxidants.

The study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is published in the journal Cell.

An unexpected culprit

The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.

What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.

"We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

"Even more surprising," Rogulja recalls, "we found that premature death could be prevented. Each morning, we would all gather around to look at the flies, with disbelief to be honest. What we saw is that every time we could neutralize ROS in the gut, we could rescue the flies." Fruit flies given any of 11 antioxidant compounds — including melatonin, lipoic acid and NAD — that neutralize ROS buildups remained active and lived a normal length of time in spite of sleep deprivation. (The researchers note that these antioxidants did not extend the lifespans of non-sleep deprived control subjects.)

fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

The experiments

The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.

Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.

The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

"We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

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