WASHINGTON — The Czech Republic became the 24th country to sign the Artemis Accords May 3, growing Europe’s presence in the U.S.-led agreement.

In a brief ceremony at NASA Headquarters, Jan Lipavský, minister of foreign affairs for the Czech Republic, formally signed the accords in the presence of officials from NASA and the U.S. State Department. Representatives of several other countries who previously signed the Artemis Accords also attended.

“I see this as a historic signature, not only because it opens up a new opportunity for cooperation between Czechia and the United States as well as other partners,” he said. “It also marks our dedication to peaceful, transparent and responsible conduct for space exploration.”

Neither U.S. nor Czech officials announced specific plans to cooperate on the Artemis lunar exploration campaign as a result of signing the accords, but suggested the signing opened the door for future discussions. Miloslav Stašek, Czech ambassador to the United States, said he hoped the agreement would start cooperation with NASA and other partners. “We are preparing several missions from the Czech Republic to the U.S. to explore how we can work closer,” he said.

The country, while a minor space player, has a long history in spaceflight. Vladimír Remek was the first Czech person to go to space on a Soyuz mission in 1978, representing the former country of Czechoslovakia, also becoming the first person not from the United States or former Soviet Union to travel into space. The country has specialized in several space science fields.

The Czech Republic joined the European Space Agency as a full member in 2008. Prague is the home of the European Union Agency for the Space Programme, or EUSPA, the E.U. entity responsible for the Copernicus system of Earth observation satellites and the Galileo satellite navigation network. The country is the seventh ESA member and sixth E.U. nation to sign the accords.

Lipavský noted there are more than 100 companies and organizations involved in space efforts in the country, with more than 50 startups established in the last six years. “The Czechia space ecosystem as a lot to offer,” he said. “We believe this signature will kickstart the development of institutional and industrial cooperation within the Artemis community as well as directly between Czechia and the U.S.”

U.S. officials emphasized the signing as evidence of growing support for the underlying principles of the accords, which seek to build upon the Outer Space Treaty and related agreements to support what officials say are key tenets of safe and sustainable space exploration.

The Artemis Accords “encourage cooperation and responsible behavior in space,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of State Jennifer R. Littlejohn, who added they “stand at the center of our civil space diplomatic efforts.”

“We wanted to set a set of principles, and these principles are quite commonsense,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. “We are united by the possibilities of deep space exploration together.”

With this signing, 24 countries have joined the Artemis Accords, which started with a core group of eight countries in October 2020. Before the Czech Republic, the African nations of Rwanda and Nigeria were the most recent to sign the accords in December 2022.

After the formal signing ceremony, Nelson and Lipavský exchanged gifts. Nelson provided a signed photo from the recent Artemis 1 mission, showing the Orion spacecraft with the moon and Earth in the background. Lipavský gave a copy of a spaceflight drawing made by a Czech Jewish boy in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. Another copy of that drawing was flown on the ill-fated STS-107 shuttle mission in 2003 by Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon.

The drawing, he said, was a reminder of the horrors of the war but also “the dreams of the exploration of space.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...