BERLIN — Josef Aschbacher recalls gazing at the night sky over his parents’ Alpine farm at age seven, trying to understand what he’d just seen on the family’s black-and-white television: NASA’s Apollo 11 landing on the moon.
Over half a century later, Aschbacher heads the European Space Agency, a formidable force in scientific exploration, telecom, and Earth observation. But so far, the agency can still not put its astronauts into orbit, relying on Russia and the United States for manned spaceflight and some other high-profile missions.
The 59-year-old wants to change that and hopes the recent turmoil caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will spur European leaders into action.
“I think the war in Ukraine has made politicians realize that we are a little bit vulnerable, and we need to make sure we have our own secure access to space and our space infrastructure,” Aschbacher told The Associated Press in an interview. Wednesday at ILA in Berlin. Air show.
Within days of the Russian attack on February 24, the European Space Agency dropped long-standing plans for a joint mission with Russia to land a rover on Mars.
“The ExoMars situation is a wake-up call on how Europe should position itself,” Aschbacher said. He recently held talks with NASA chief Bill Nelson to find a way to save the mission without Russia and is “very hopeful” that the lander will do just that. to reach the red planet.
In the long run, however, Aschbacher said, “It’s clear that for critical components, for critical missions, we need to make sure we can do it (ourselves).” Earlier this year, he hinted that these could also include manned launches.
He praised a recent speech by Emmanuel Macron — those days before Russia invaded Ukraine — in which the French president called for a bolder European space policy.
“That was a bit of a Kennedy moment, but we need to hear this in other countries as well,” Aschbacher said, referring to US President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech announcing plans to put a man on the moon. To land. “I would hope the same Kennedy moment would happen in Germany and Italy, the UK and Belgium, and so on.”
He said that such ambition is also needed if Europe is to capitalize on the growing space economy fueled by private ventures such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
European astronauts at the ILA show spoke of a change of tone in dealing with commercial companies that are more focused on the financial gains to be made from orbiting the Earth than on the lofty ideals of international cooperation that underpinned cooperation between major space organizations.
“If we don’t increase our investment, we will be kicked out of this race,” he said.
With European countries now shelling out billions in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, governments need to consider other areas where their countries depend on others and are therefore vulnerable, Aschbacher said.
“If there’s a war going on on our doorstep, we need to make sure you can keep your phone working and your sat nav working,” he said. “This is part of security in a broader sense.”