August 12, 2009

Germany Shoots For The Moon With Unmanned Mission

Germany is making plans for its unmanned lunar mission which will begin around 2015, a senior German government official said on Wednesday.

Economy Ministry State Secretary Peter Hintze said it would be possible to have a German moon landing "within the next decade, around 2015," in an interview with ZDF television. He also encouraged cooperation with other European countries and the United States.

The venture is expected to rack up $2.12 billion over five years and could encourage the development of new technologies, said Hintze, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).

Even though Hintz believes the investment would be considered "money well spent,"  he noted, "At the moment, the finances aren't there."

He said that the next government will have to make the decision about whether to go forward with such a project. Germany is set to hold a federal election on September 27, and latest polls indicate that Merkel's conservatives have a big lead over their Social Democratic counterpart.

The mission would involve landing robots rather than German astronauts on the moon. Hintz considers the moon to be an "excellent research platform for the exploration of space."

They would be using advanced technologies, such as stereo photography, radar technology and spectral sensing in order to get the unmanned space craft into the moon's orbit.

What is being called the "Lunar Exploration Orbiter" project is expected to produce a high-resolution, three dimensional map that will cover a vast area below the moon's surface, said Hintz.

Germany has never succeeded in sending a mission to the moon, despite the fact that former Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun was the architect of the Saturn V rocket that pushed the U.S. manned moon landings forward.

According to Hintz, the flight had been considered for the 40 years after Neil Armstrong first took his steps on the moon, partly because the nations involved in space travel had rediscovered the Earth's moon as a natural satellite research project.

"The moon is the archive of our solar system," he said. "The moon is something like the Earth's natural space station."