Bridenstine to meet with international partners on lunar plans at Paris Air Show

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WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine plans to meet with international counterparts in Paris this week to discuss cooperation on the agency’s Artemis lunar program, but says those discussions are still in their early stages.

Bridenstine will be in Paris for the 53rd International Paris Air Show, a major event on the aerospace industry’s calendar but one with only a modest space presence. However, Bridenstine said at a June 6 press conference here he expected to meet with the heads of a number of other space agencies who will be in attendance.

“All of the heads of the space agencies from around the world will be there,” he said at the briefing, intended to provide a preview of the American pavilion at the show, which opens June 17. “We will have opportunities to share with them what our plans are, the direction we’re going.”

Bridenstine has long stressed the agency’s Artemis program for returning humans to the moon will include roles for international partners, particularly for the lunar Gateway. Canada has already committed to providing a robotic arm for the Gateway while the U.S. and Japan agreed to cooperate on lunar exploration during President Trump’s visit to Japan in May.

Specific roles, beyond the Canadian robotic arm, are less clear, though. The decision by the Trump administration in March to accelerate the timetable for a human landing to 2024, thus deferring work on much of the Gateway to later in the decade, has also clouded plans for international cooperation.

At the June 6 briefing, Bridenstine said NASA was continuing to develop the overall architecture for the Artemis program. “We’re continuing to assess each of our international partner’s interests and capabilities, and then make the right decision for how they fit into the architecture,” he said.

The 2024 return, he acknowledged, will have limited opportunities for international cooperation beyond existing agreements, such as the one with the European Space Agency where it provides the service module for the Orion spacecraft. “Beyond that, the architecture is open, and we want to make sure that if people are interested in joining the effort, they have the opportunity,” he said.

“We are still in the early stages of assessing the interests of our international partners and their capabilities,” he said. “That’s what we’re going there to do, and continue the dialogues we’ve already started.”

While Bridenstine said that “all the heads” of international space agencies will be there, he later noted one significant absence: Dmitry Rogozin, head of Rocosmos, won’t be there because of sanctions stemming from his role as deputy prime minister when Russian annexed Crimea in 2014. Those sanctions also prevented Rogozin from attending the International Astronautical Congress in Germany in October 2018.

Organizers said the American pavilion at the Paris Air Show would be the largest ever, although dominated by aviation and other non-space companies. Space, though, will be a theme of the pavilion, marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

Three Apollo astronauts will be at the show, including Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden. “Jim’s got a big, big responsibility in getting us back to the moon,” he said of Bridenstine at the briefing.

Worden, like Bridenstine, played up the need for international cooperation in space. “I guarantee that, when we start thinking about going to Mars, it’s probably going to be too big a job for just America,” he said. “It’s going to be 10 times what Apollo was. We’re laying the seeds down for the cooperation that I see coming along.”