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In the Wild West of corporate space travel, humans could return to the moon. But does it bring diplomatic challenges?

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(Photo by George Wilson/NurPhoto via AP)
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Commercial Lunar Payload Systems (CPLS) Peregrine Mission 1, supporting the Artemis program, is launching from Launch Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Brevard County, Florida, USA, on January 8, 2024, at 02:18 hrs.

When Pittsburgh-based company Astrobiotic Technology launched its fuel-efficient, NASA-backed flight to the moon, hopes were high that it would be the first U.S. moon landing in more than 50 years. But a fuel leak resulted in the company pulling the plug on the landing and in NASA delaying its plans to return humans to the surface of the moon by a year as part of its Artemis program. 

The failure of Astrobiotic’s landing is a reminder that even though space exploration is now spearheaded by companies, not countries, the challenges of space travel remain the same. But Mai’a Cross, dean’s professor of political science, international affairs and diplomacy and director of the Center for International Affairs and World Cultures at Northeastern University, says it should also show the public how important space diplomacy is in what she says is a Wild West age of corporate moon launches.

“The fact that basically around half of the attempts to land a rover on the moon fail and yet people persist and try to achieve it, that something as straightforward as that is still challenging to achieve, it makes much more sense to cooperate than to try to weaponize and fight wars in space,” Cross says.

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