French astronaut Thomas Pesquet on Tuesday urged Europe to seize the momentum created by its newfound diplomatic force and “get moving now” to develop its own manned spaceflight capability.
The charismatic engineer and pilot, 44, recently completed his second deployment to the International Space Station on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission and is arguably the highest profile in the European astronaut corps, in addition to being a celebrity in his native France is .
Although he has long praised international cooperation in space and may want to fly to the moon as part of NASA-led Artemis missions, Pesquet said it was vital for European leaders to pledge funding to the European Space Agency (ESA). grant and mandate it needs to set up its own people too.
“This issue is now gaining importance,” he told AFP news agency at NASA headquarters in Washington.
“In the late ’80s, early ’90s, we had this goal of becoming more independent in terms of human access to space, and then it didn’t work out. Several things happened, Germany had to reunite, they had to reallocate budgets, etc.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has now united Europe’s once recalcitrant member states, and Pesquest said he hoped ESA member countries would capitalize on the continent’s newfound prowess.
“These issues like European diplomacy, European defense are coming back on the table and part of that process is also independent human access to space,” he argued.
Currently, only the United States, Russia and China have independent launch capacity, while India is looking to acquire it.
One possible option for ESA is to launch a crew on a spacecraft attached to the Ariane 6 rocket, which is currently under development and is expected to make its first launch from French Guiana later this year.
“We have to start now because the development cycles are long. We don’t want that to happen in 15 to 20 years,” he said.
– Advantages and challenges of commercial space –
Pesquet was also keen to oppose the idea that the rise of the commercial space sector would make national space agencies obsolete.
“There is a general public perception that the private sector or Elon Musk or SpaceX is in charge, which is not true at all.”
In fact, according to Pesquet, private industry has always been involved – from building the space shuttle to Ariane rockets. “What we’ve done now is give them more autonomy and say, ‘Hey, we need the service.
Musk could make headlines for his bombastic announcements about colonizing Mars, but “the fine print says if all the agencies put together the budget to go to Mars, then the private sector will supply the hardware,” Pesquet said.
As the private sector brought new levels of speed and innovation to the table, Pesquet said there were some challenges — for example, working with the private, ticket-paying citizens who are now increasingly frequenting the ISS.
“Of course, if you confuse professional astronauts … and the spaceflight participants, it affects our job because we have to take care of them because they’re less trained and less experienced than the board,” he said, something agencies are considering have to pull to advance.
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