“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 to the Moon on the horizon 2025-2030. “In low orbit around the Earth – about 500 km – we have had a continuous human presence with the International Space Station for 20 years” (ISS), the 44-year-old astronaut reminds AFP. years in Rome, on the sidelines of a conference at the French Embassy in Italy.
“Today, it is time for us, the institutional astronauts in Europe, our international partners, to go further,” he adds, saying he hopes “the private sector will hurry behind us”. “We are clearing this area so that it is useful to European society,” he says.
An ambitious NASA program
Back in November from his second mission in space, where he became the first Frenchman to control the ISS, Thomas Pesquet was able to participate in lunar missions as part of NASA’s ambitious program called Artemis – sister twin to Apollo with reference to the 1969 historic mission – associate Canada, Japan and Europe.
“We seem to be in good configuration: we have a launcher, a capsule, a destination, everything falls into place,” he notes. The first unmanned test flight is scheduled for summer 2022, before a first manned flight in mid-2024, with no landing on the moon, to “prepare the runways”.
“From there, a flight every year, currently on the 2025-2026-2027 calendar, with flights to the Moon. There, Europeans could have a voice in the matter,” says the astronaut, who remembers the technical difficulty of going into space. series of small miracles ”.
As a direct consequence of the war in Ukraine, the Russian-European ExoMars mission was suspended in March by the European Space Agency (ESA). It arranged for the launch of a rover en route to the red planet using the Russian Soyuz rocket. Asked during his conference on the consequences of the conflict, Thomas Pesquet insists on the “collective intelligence” and “the great solidarity” among the astronauts aboard the ISS. “It did not change many things in the crews (…) We have friends across borders, we know each other, we are on the same boat. »
But “at the political level, between the agencies, it’s harder,” he qualifies. “Today we see that we are complying with the agreements that were made a few years ago, but we are not making decisions for the future. A sign of a desire for greater independence, European astronauts called in February for the establishment 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 trust others to access the space (…) Today we think a lot about it”.
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 permanent seats in the next promotion, which will be unveiled in November. “Being on the other side makes me think about how lucky I was; when you look at everything that can be exclusive in such a selection, it is still incredible to reach the finish line, “he claims, clarifying that the criteria have not really changed since his selection in 2009.
“It is very exciting to see all that Europe has of talents, all these people who come from Spain, Italy, Germany, France, the Nordic countries, from everywhere with a very rich background,” he rejoices. “They all have this thing in common, which is the passion for space and European identity, they all speak several European languages, it’s the Erasmus generation, they have it in their body, so it gives me confidence for the future.”