For Thomas Pesquet, “it’s time to move on” in European space exploration

“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), reminds AFP astronaut of 44 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 move forward,” he added, saying he hoped “the private sector will hurry behind us. “. “We are clearing this area so that it is useful to European society,” he says.

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 – Apollo’s sister twin with reference to the 1969 historic mission – there connects Canada, Japan and Europe. “We seem to be in good configuration: we have a launcher, a capsule, a destination, everything put in place,” he notes.

IN PICTURES, IN PICTURES The most beautiful photos taken by Thomas Pesquet from space

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 calendar for 2025-2026-2027, with flights to the Moon. There, Europeans could have an impact on the matter,” the astronaut recalls, recalling the technical difficulties of going into space, “a series of small miracles “.

⋙ “Smoke columns”, “cloud walls”: Thomas Pesquet, space witness to disasters

No decisions for the future

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 on its way 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 has not changed a lot of things within the crews (…)” We have friends across borders, we know each other, we are on the same boat “. But” at the political level, between agencies, it’s harder “, “Today we see that we are complying with the agreements reached a few years ago, but we are not making decisions for the future.” A desire for greater independence In February, European astronauts called for the establishment of a European program for manned flights, “a topic that is very important today”, Pesquet acknowledges.

Among his many activities, the astronaut is associated with the selection of the next class of European astronauts. More than 22,000 candidates have only applied for four to six permanent seats in the next promotion, which will be announced in November. “Finding yourself on the other side makes me think how lucky I was; when you see everything this, it can be eliminated in such a selection it is still incredible to reach the finish line “, he argues and clarifies that the criteria” have not really changed “since his selection in 2009.” It is very exciting to see all that, Europe “of talents, all of them. these people who come from Spain, Italy, Germany, France, the Nordic countries, from all places with very rich”, he rejoices. “They all have this thing in common, which is the passion for space and European identity, they all speak several languages ​​in Europe, it’s the Erasmus generation, they have it attached to the body, so it gives me confidence for the future.”

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