Three European astronauts aboard the Gateway, the station in cislunar orbit already in development (also in Italy), a framework agreement for a strategic partnership in earth system science and the US support for the ExoMars mission, directed to Mars and originally conceived as a Russian-European collaboration. A support, in light of the international situation, which could save the mission from definitive cancellation. And then the possibility, although still without a precise date, to see the first “European footprints on the Moon”.
These are the salient facts of the partnership between NASA and the European Space Agency that emerged a few hours ago in a press conference at Estec, following the ESA Council hosted in the Netherlands since yesterday. In the presence of the director general of ESA, Josef Aschbacher, of the council chair Anna Rathsman, of the administrator of NASA, Bill Nelson, and of his deputy, the former astronaut Pamela Melroy, the link between the United States and Europe was reaffirmed. be, beyond the sky, “stronger than ever. And it will intensify ”repeated Aschbacher several times.
From the James Webb Telescope, the largest (and most expensive) space observatory ever built, launched last December 25 in orbit, to the Artemis lunar program, which in 2025 should bring the first (American) woman and the next man to the selene surface; from the involvement of private companies to Earth observation, the areas evoked during the conference as well as those of the effective realization of the Euro-US collaboration were different. Starting with the Earth sciences: the two agencies intend to lead a global response to climate change, by monitoring our planet with joint efforts in observations, research and applications. Unprecedented, the strategic partnership sets the standard for future international collaboration and ensures that satellite data from Earth observation is used to best effect. Topics include observation systems to ensure constant monitoring, collaboration on policy and exploitation of information. “With leadership on both sides of the Atlantic more committed than ever to addressing this problem,” commented Aschbacher, “ESA and NASA have a historic and further opportunity to make space an integral part of the solution when it comes to of climate change mitigation “.
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“We are proud to have been invited to the ESA Council” answered Nelson and Melroy “and we are here to reiterate that our collaboration with ESA is and will be increasingly solid, renewing a relationship already signed in 2010”. Formal statements aside, the possibility of the first ever European astronaut setting foot on the Moon was discussed – “space is complex” commented Nelson when questioned on the matter, “we can guarantee right now that it will happen, but today it would be premature to confirm in which mission the Europeans will descend to the lunar surface “-, therefore the role of ESA in the construction of the Gateway was recognized, to which Europe contributes by creating the Esprit Refueling Module and the habitable module I-Hab, and in that of a satellite system for communication and lunar navigation. “Our relationship points beyond the next frontier,” added Aschbacher, evoking Mars Sample Return, the mission that will allow, at the beginning of the next decade, to bring precious samples of Martian rock back to Earth.
It is inevitable, however, not to glimpse in the invitation of the NASA executives to the ESA Council and in the press conference also the desire to reaffirm a space alliance with very, very terrestrial political subtexts.
“The collaboration of astronauts in orbit, including Samantha Cristoforetti, with Russian cosmonauts demonstrates an exceptional professionalism”, Nelson wanted to clarify, “even that between the control centers of the International Space Station, in Houston and Moscow, is not suffering any consequences and this despite the dramatic situation in Ukraine ”.
A situation that “has repercussions in most of our programs”, however, specified Aschbacher, recalling precisely the stop suffered by ExoMars, whose departure was scheduled for September. Not only in the case of the Martian mission, Russia was in fact responsible for part of the technological supply and materials, as well as several launches with the Soyuz from the European spaceport of Kourou.
“This is why new collaborations are being defined, with the aim of mitigating the consequences of the war and honoring agendas and commitments”. For example, in fact, again the Martian mission, on which ESA has been working for over ten years: “In deepening our partnership in the exploration of the Red Planet”, he then reassured Nelson “NASA is determining the best way to support our European friends in the ExoMars mission “. Meanwhile, the two agencies will continue to work together to refine the Mars Sample Return architecture. “Overall, we want to get the best scientific return from our collective investments, on both sides of the Atlantic,” Aschbacher said.
ESA member states will further discuss the way forward for Rosalind Franklin, the ExoMars rover, during the July Council meeting. Furthermore, the imminent debut of the new European launchers, the Ariane 6 by the end of the year, and the Vega C, on 7 July, will make it possible to make up for part of the momentary Russian lump sum. “We will emerge stronger than ever from this crisis” commented Aschbacher, “we will aim for greater autonomy, while honoring our role as reliable partners. We will talk about this in the Council of member countries, scheduled for next November ”.
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