The Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA), Josef Aschbacher, has big goals – and wants a lot of money for them. In the interview he talked about Europeans on the moon, ticket prices for the flight there – and the young astronauts.
The European rocket Ariane 6 has still not lifted off, the German-Russian Mars mission Exomars has been stopped and the European service module ESM of the moon mission Artemis is not yet on its way to the moon. Are you posting 2022 as a year of setbacks?
Josef Aschbacher: Not at all. On the contrary. We have had a lot of success. I cite the first flight of the Vega-C rocket as an example. We also organized a space summit for the first time, where the EU and ESA made decisions together. The Council of Ministers in November, where the ESA member states decide on the budget and roadmap for the next three years, will be the crowning glory of the year. The announcement of the new astronaut class in the same month will also be a highlight.
20,000 new applicants aiming for the Moon or the ISS
How will this squad be composed?
Can’t say that at the moment. We are in the final stages of selection. We had almost 22,000 applications. We reduced this to 50 in several stages. We will choose again from there. I will interview the most promising candidates myself in October and personally select the new astronauts. How many there are and whether Germans are among them cannot yet be said.
The future of the ISS is uncertain. Will these astronauts ever go to space?
Yes of course. We choose astronauts to fly. The question is when. There are two possible destinations. Firstly, the ISS, which we would like to continue operating together with NASA until 2030. On the other hand, the NASA moon program “Artemis” gives us the opportunity to bring astronauts to the planned station in lunar orbit, the “Lunar Gateway”. Three flights for ESA astronauts have currently been agreed with NASA. We may also be able to bring an astronaut to the moon itself.
Why isn’t there a firm commitment yet?
Believe me, I bring the subject up every time I meet with NASA CEO Bill Nelson. I want to see a European astronaut on the moon before the end of this decade.
“The moon is becoming a new economic area”
Is that a question of money?
Such flights by astronauts at NASA are not paid directly. Indirectly, however, we do, in that we participate in cooperations and invest accordingly. For example, if we make important contributions to the “Artemis” program, I can put that on the table in negotiations. It is therefore also important that the ESA Council of Ministers approves a large budget and many proposed projects in November. That strengthens my position.
It’s been 50 years since the last manned moon landing. What added value do you expect from the new approach?
We have a certain idea of the economic advantages this can bring us. However, we cannot yet know the full potential of the new economic area. But I’m personally convinced that it’s worth it. The moon will become a new economy that will flourish over the next decade. We are just beginning to use the moon sustainably for our projects this time. When Columbus came to America, he didn’t know at first what it all meant.
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