ROME: “It’s time to move on”: Six months after his return to Earth, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet has set his sights on the future of European space exploration, which will be marked by missions on the moon on the horizon 2025 -2030.
“In low Earth orbit – about 500 km – we have been in continuous human presence for 20 years with the International Space Station” (ISS), AFP reminds the astronaut of 44 years in Rome, on the sidelines of a conference at the French embassy in Italy.
“Today is the time for us, Europe’s institutional astronauts, our international partners, to move forward,” he adds, saying he hopes “the private sector will run after us”. “We are clearing this territory so that it is useful to European society,” he says.
Back in November of his second mission in space, in which he became the first Frenchman at the wheel of the ISS, Thomas Pesquet was able to participate in lunar missions as part of NASA’s ambitious program called Artemis – sister twins of Apollo in reference to the historic mission. from 1969 – associating Canada, Japan and Europe.
“We seem to be in a good configuration: we have a launcher, a capsule, a destination, everything is falling into place,” he notes. The first unmanned test flight is planned for the summer of 2022, with a first manned flight in mid-2024, without landing on the moon, to “prepare the trajectories”.
“From there every year, a flight, for the time being on the calendar 2025-2026-2027, with flights to the moon. There Europeans could have a say”, continues the astronaut, who remembers the technical difficulty of going into space, “a series of small miracles”.
As a direct result of the war in Ukraine, the Russian-European ExoMars mission was suspended by the European Space Agency (ESA) in March. It envisioned the launch of a rover bound for the Red Planet using the Russian Soyuz launch vehicle.
During his conference, questioned about the consequences of the conflict, Thomas Pesquet emphasized “the collective intelligence” and “the great solidarity” of the astronauts aboard the ISS. “Not much has changed within the crews (…) “We have friends across the border, we know each other, we are in the same boat”.
But “at the political level, between the agencies, it is more difficult”, he nuances. “Today we see that we are fulfilling the agreements made a few years ago, but we are not making any decisions for the future.”
In February, as a sign of a desire for greater independence, European astronauts called for the creation of a European program for manned flights, “a topic that is very important today,” Pesquet acknowledges. “We realized that it was not always easy to rely on others to access space (…) Today we think about it a lot”.
Among his many activities, the astronaut is associated with the selection of the next class of European astronauts. More than 22,000 candidates have applied for just four to six regular spots in the next promotion, to be unveiled in November.
“When I find myself on the other side, I think about how lucky I’ve been; when you see everything that can eliminate in such a roster, it’s still incredible to make it to the finish line,” he says, specifying that the criteria “have not really changed” since his selection in 2009.
“It’s very exciting to see what talent Europe has, all those people who come from Spain, Italy, Germany, France, the Scandinavian countries, from all over with very rich backgrounds,” he rejoices.
“They all have something in common, namely the passion for space and European identity. They all speak several languages of Europe. It’s the Erasmus generation, they have it in them, so it gives me confidence for the future.”