July 20, 2009

ESA Director Discusses Future of Moon

On Monday, European Space Agency Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain addressed the historic significance of the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon on the 40th anniversary of man's first footsteps onto the planet.

"Back then, it meant that US technology was stronger than Soviet technology, because it was the US flag that was planted on the Moon," he said. "But today, I think we can see this in a totally different light. The fact that it was a US flag is no longer what matters most."

"I think the most important thing, and what will be remembered far longer, is that astronauts discovered planet Earth; they saw Earth resembling a small "Ëœblue marble' floating in the Universe. They were able to bring back to Earth the notion that our future is a global one and that we have to think about the future of Earth globally, and not individually."

"So this is what it means today, which is very different from what it meant 40 years ago."

Dordain also addressed questions as to the future of manned missions to the moon, saying that the second time would need to be an international effort rather than a competition.

"The Moon is just three days away from Earth, and it used to take three days to go from Paris to Marseille a little over a hundred years ago, so I don't see why we shouldn't go back to the Moon," said Dordain.

"However, the aim would no longer be to plant a flag there."

"It seems to me that the Moon is simply a part of our environment and I am sure humans will return to the Moon; but they will go to the Moon together and not in the context of two competing countries," he added.

When asked whether or not Europe would go to the moon, Dordain was more ambiguous, stating that it would "play a part in the international exploration of the Moon; but with what means, we don't yet know."

"That is a choice to be made at a political level, not at agency level. Because the fact is that Europe today is dependent on others to go to the Moon with astronauts. And since we are dependent, we cannot take any initiatives. We can only contribute to a US-led exploration program."

"Europe can certainly bring some interesting technologies to areas where I would say we are the best in the world, but no initiative-taking would be involved. So that is the first scenario: a European contribution to a US-led exploration program."

But he also pointed to a second option that would involve Europe developing the capability to take initiatives.

"But that is a very different scenario, because it would first of all require developing new capabilities, in particular a crew transportation system. This would call for a high-level political decision, as well as discussions at political level about Europe's position in a lunar exploration program," said Dordain.

According to AFP, France, which is one of the ESA's largest contributors, pledged support for Europe to be a part of the return to the moon, but nothing more than that.

"France's position, and one that will be expressed at a major meeting in Europe this autumn on the question of manned space flight, is that we cannot be absent from this great adventure but we cannot undertake it by ourselves," Valerie Pecresse, minister of higher education and research, told AFP.

"It is not possible for Europe to go solo today, it's too costly. On the other hand, we could take part in a worldwide venture, with the United States, Russia and others."


On the Net: