Berlin (dpa) – German astronaut Alexander Gerst wants very much to be one of the people who will soon wander on the surface of the moon again. Gerst told the German News Agency (DPA) in Berlin that holding moon rocks in your hand would be like a “ten on a scale of ten” for him. “As are all my colleagues.” In total, there are currently six active European astronauts with space experience.
However, it is still unclear whether there will be a European visit to the Moon anytime soon. A flight with an astronaut from the European Space Agency (ESA) is not planned for the US lunar mission “Artemis 2”, currently planned for the end of 2024, nor for the launch of “Artemis 3” planned for 2025, but only for “Artemis 4” and “Artemis 5,” ESA Director General Joseph Aschbacher told the German news agency.
Only to the moon or also on it?
It is unclear whether he or she will be one of two of the mission’s four astronauts who not only fly to the moon, but also set foot on it. “That has not been determined yet,” Aschbacher said. NASA does not want to make a decision until after the Artemis 2 flight.
In this mission, four American and Canadian astronauts will orbit the Moon in the Orion spacecraft, with ESA contributing the European Service Module (ESM), built by Airbus in Bremen. There won’t be Americans on the moon again until “Artemis 3.”
China or the United States of America?
To date, the United States is the only country that has brought astronauts to the Moon: from 1969 to 1972, twelve American astronauts set foot on the Earth’s companion during the Apollo missions. Some experts believe another American landing on the moon is not possible until 2027 at the earliest, and competition never sleeps: China wants to bring astronauts to the moon by 2030 and India by 2040.
As far as the new race to the moon between China and the USA could be, ESA head Aschbacher has a clear favourite: “It is very likely that the next astronaut to stand on the moon will be an American. Pretty much ‘without a doubt.’”
Aschbacher is convinced that a lot will happen on the Moon from the middle of the next decade. It is very likely that the first stations on the Moon will be where astronauts will live initially for a few weeks, and then, as on the ISS, perhaps even for half a year.
Moon source of raw materials?
One of the goals of states is to secure economically relevant claims, for example in relation to the potential mining of raw materials such as rare earth elements. Aschbacher explained that until now, ownership claims to the moon remain largely unclear. There are guidelines, no binding contracts. The Artemis Accords initiated by the USA would provide for rights of use to the station site – i.e. indirectly claiming ownership. However, the agreement has not been signed by major space nations such as China and Russia. “So there are many, many unanswered questions.”
First come, first served – this probably also applies to claims on the moon. Aschbacher sees real long-term opportunities for economic growth. Since the Moon, according to current knowledge, was separate from the Earth, very similar mineral resources would likely be found there. They could initially be used to build lunar bases or produce fuel, and if transporting some raw materials to Earth becomes economically feasible, that could happen as well.
Right now, with today’s technology, extracting raw materials and transporting them to Earth doesn’t make sense, Gerst said. “But it’s about looking into the future, not just 10 years, but 100 years or more.”
Aschbacher added that today one can only speculate about other business areas or cannot even imagine them. But they will be there. “I am 100 percent convinced.” In many lunar projects, “initially the costs are higher than the benefits, that’s very clear. But at some point the benefits will develop there as well.”
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