Jan Wörner: Going forward to the Moon

the moon

Jan Wörner tells SciTech Europa Quarterly about the possibility of sending a European astronaut to the surface of the Moon.

The theme of this year’s Open Day at ESA was ‘ESA to the Moon’. The event celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo lunar landing, as well as highlighting ESA’s role in returning people to the Moon, including contributing the service module to NASA’s Orion spacecraft and participating in the Lunar Gateway, a station around the Moon to act as a base for both robotic and human explorers. Alongside this, the event also highlighted ESA’s Director General Jan Wörner has proposed a ‘Moon village’ as a model for cooperative international lunar settlement.

SciTech Europa Quarterly speaks to Wörner, about the future of the forthcoming ministerial, and the possibility of sending a European astronaut to the surface of the Moon.

What are your hopes for the forthcoming ministerial?

In this ministerial we will try to prepare for the future, meaning that we are proposing programmes for all of ESA’s different activities – science and exploration, space, safety and security, and the applications including Earth Observation and telecommunications, as well as enabling and support, which covers technology and space transportation. It has taken two years of preparation to get to this critical point.

Are there any areas that are of particular concern?

I have the feeling that most of our proposals are well received. I gave it something of a motto: ‘inspiration, competitiveness and responsibility’. When it comes to inspiration, you will always find people willing to pay for that, and that is also true for competitiveness. However, responsibility is more difficult to achieve because we are looking at things like climate change observation, which is often supported, but we are also looking at space safety, which might include deliberately moving an asteroid, as well as things like prewarning for solar flares and Space Debris removal and that is much more difficult to sell.
When it comes to space safety, meaning safety in space, this covers solar flares which are dangerous for the Earth as well as to satellites in space, as well as areas such as debris removal (there is a lot of waste in space and we must take care of that), the collision avoidance of future satellites, and the question of asteroid impact, for which we need to be prepared. We are also able to monitor tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and so on from space.

At this ministerial I will propose a mission which will have both active debris removal and debris avoidance in one; this is a challenge and I am still working on it but nevertheless hope to get support from the Member States. I believe that in the future satellites should all have something like that, or at least, if a satellite is launched, there should be a clear understanding of how to get it back. Perhaps regulation is necessary here, and this could stipulate that you have to ensure that there is not additional space debris from the launch of a satellite, and so you can either have it as an active, redundant system/secondary system, or maybe even a contract with a space debris removal service company. Personally, though, I would like to think that moral and ethics is enough.

Why do you think it is important for us to go back to the moon?

I think it’s not important to go ‘back’ to the Moon; going back to the Moon would mean simply copy what happened 50 years ago during the Cold War and in a competition between East and West. Rather, I think we should go forward to the Moon. The Moon is interesting from a scientific point of view: we know now that there is water there. For instance, which we could use either on the Moon or for propulsion. Meanwhile, the far side of the Moon is also very interesting in terms of looking deep into the Universe. We can also use the Moon to test a lot of technologies etc. which will be of use in future missions should we decide to visit other bodies in the Universe. And, of course, there is also the possibility of tourism on the Moon, although this will undoubtedly not happen for some time, if at all.

What will ESA’s main emphasis be moving forwards in terms of Moon-related activities?

Right now, we are following two parallel lines: one is that the Americans will go to the Moon and they will do this using a service module from ESA. And we also hope that, at a certain point in time, we could have the possibility of sending a European astronaut to the surface of the Moon. The other concerns robotic exploration and science. We have both in our proposal.

Jan Wörner
Director General
European Space Agency

Disclaimer: This article is featured in the December issue of SciTech Europa Quarterly.

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