Bringing Europeans to the Moon

Marianne Ranke-Cormier - 01/12/2003

2003, Franck Biancheri wrote this paper: "Bringing Europeans to the Moon". It was not science-fiction, but his deepest believe in Europeans, the ability to dominate the science, technology, research, believe in the greatness of Europe. Manned space conquest a politically compulsory for the EU : Give our youth a common dream!

Thus ends the era of USA/Russia complete domination of space; the coming one is an era of multiple space powers without clear leadership in terms of conquest. In order to play an active role in that ‘New Space Order’, Europe has to rapidly define its strategy and to back it up with relevant means. Otherwise, Europe will be left out of what will be the new frontier for mankind by the end of this century. China’s success in launching its first manned spaceship a few months ago as well as its decision to send Chinese to the Moon is an apparent confirmation of this analysis. Tomorrow’s proposals by President G.W. Bush to re-start an ailing US space programme (whether it is a serious commitment or just another pre-electoral announcement does not make any difference at this point) does show that the US is aware that we have reached a ‘turning point’ in space conquest history. G.W. Bush is trying to cure what I called the lack of political vision of the US space programme. And he is right to do so because space policy is a highly political policy.
Europe has yet to create a space policy
Look at Europe today. It has almost no political vision at all concerning its space programme ! Who among European citizens can answer the simple question: what do the Europeans hope to achieve through their space programme? With our successful rocket (Ariane), our satellites for various purposes, our deep-space missions from time-to-time, our Beagles success (Beagle 1) and failure (Beagle 2), our contribution to the paralysed international space-station, … our space policy looks more like a collection of objectives than a real consistent policy.
At a time when Russia and the US can no longer provide the required leadership for space exploration, these questions cannot be ignored internally or internationally by the European Union. Just look at China.
China has a very ambitious space strategy
In the past two decades, new space powers have emerged, mainly Europe and China (with smaller contenders such as India and Japan). China’s programme is obviously sponsored by a strong political will to use space conquest for reaching two main objectives: establishing China as one of the few space powers, commanding therefore an entire segment of tomorrow’s technology and might and establishing the Chinese as priortizing the ‘movement towards other planets’.
And like everywhere else (but Europe), China also uses its space programme to boost national identity and pride, projecting its own image into humanity’s future.
Europe is in need of a space strategy
Europe could be the other emerging major space power in the next few decades. It has successfully taken over a major part of non military satellite launches and has therefore become the current leader of commercial use of space. It now faces difficulties which only occur to leaders: new technology development troubles (Ariane V repeated failures) … and the need for a decent long term strategy. Technological difficulties can only be overcome through better and more innovative management and funding. Both can only exist if there is a clear political vision and will for a European Space Programme, heading towards 2050.
But to achieve this, we need to reinvent space programme planning, management and implementation, in order to boost new ideas, face new challenges and cut costs. Europe could ask for such an effort by stimulating the involvement of its young and future space engineers and scientists. Let’s not forget that we still base our programmes conception on methodologies and processes coming from NASA in the 60s (which itself took it from German scientists from the V1 and V2 programme of WWII). Maybe it is time to update things a bit?
Let’s use future CAP savings to boost European Space Programme
Of course a European Space Programme will have to acknowledge several constraints in order to be successful (that is, in terms of generating the above mentioned benefits). First, it must define strategic objectives able to give Europeans a specific major aim, as well as being actively involved in other nations major projects. Simply said: Europe will have to be a leader in one of the key global projects of tomorrow’s world space projects; as well as taking part as a partner in other major projects. Meanwhile, it must be funded and managed properly. Funds will be available from 2006 on as the Common Agricultural Policy will decrease. Obviously it is out of the question to reduce the already meagre EU budget; therefore funds not anymore going to CAP will be available for other purposes: an European Space Programme should be a significant one for the new funded policy. In terms of organization, the solution found for Galileo, a joint venture of both European Space Agency and the EU, may offer a proper framework, at the crossroads of intergovernmental and common policies.
Setting up a permanent European base on the Moon
The objective of being an active partner in all major international space programmes is already in place and must be pursued (International Space Station, Mars, …). The project Europe will choose to make its own should be widely debated. Fifteen years ago, some European Space Agency officials were already saying that Europe should focus on setting up a permanent base on the Moon (which was forgotten when USA and USSR where no longer politically interested by the race to the moon). Whether it is terms of science, seriously testing ‘industry in space’, finding new solutions to get rid of very dangerous pollutants, or even setting up a more adequate base for the future exploration of other planets, the interest of a ‘Europeans on the Moon’ space programme are numerous and concrete. This is only a possibility. But in any case, people only get interested by space odyssey if THEY (and not robots) are part of the game.
Manned space conquest is politically compulsory for the EU : Give our youth a common dream
In a few years time, with the enlargement and its constitution, the European Union will be the youngest of all political entities on Earth. Being audacious and taking risks is part of being young. Trying by any means to avoid the unknown is on the contrary part of being old. If we put Europeans in space, we will bring younger generations closer to feeling part of a common dream: a peaceful one, to be shared with the rest of mankind. And this time, we are sure at least that there are no inhabitants on the Moon, so we do not risk to commit genocide as we did in our past colonial adventures.
When I first wrote about this idea a year ago, I mostly had bemused feedbacks as if setting up a permanent base on the Moon was science-fiction. Well, today, it seems that two major powers are starting to set similar goals, but unfortunately Europe is not one of them!
Franck Biancheri
Paris (France)
Europe 2020, 01/12/2003