Photo Credit: CNES/PEUS Christophe, 2017
France has joined a NASA-led moon mission and Europe should do the same, the French space chief said. The American and French space agencies, NASA and CNES, signed an accord during the Paris Air Show on June 19 that will allow France to take part in the mission dubbed "Artemis," after the Greek goddess of hunting and the moon. The US-designed project aims to send "the first woman and the next man" to the lunar surface as soon as 2024.
"There's a certain enthusiasm around the mission," CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall said in an interview in the French capital after talks between the heads of the world's major space agencies. "Clearly Europe must be part of it."
He said Europe will discuss the scope of its participation in Artemis in Seville, Spain, in November when member states and the European Space Agency, gather to talk about future space plans. The bloc could spend up to EUR 600 million ($680 million or roughly Rs. 4,700 crores) a year on the project, Le Gall said.
Europe has been mostly watching from the sidelines as the US and China compete to achieve the first manned moon landing since 1972, weighing what role to play given its budget constraints and smaller appetite for gigantic space projects.
But French President Emmanuel Macron has been urging the bloc to enhance its space strategy, citing new threats by China and Russia and tensions with the US, the traditional guarantor of European security. He has vowed to reinforce France's military space program amid the creeping militarization of the Earth's outer atmosphere.
Le Gall said that one way to fund Artemis would be to divert the 150 million euros that France spends each year on the International Space Station - a joint mission between Russia, Japan, the US, Europe, Canada and other nations that was launched in 1998 and is due to end around 2030.
A woman or another man landing on the moon in five years time isn't certain, though.
NASA is still lobbying Congress and President Donald Trump to sign off on the project, which requires an extra $20 billion to $30 billion, on top of the agency's normal budget, to get off the ground in 2024, Administrator Jim Bridenstine told CNN on June 14. Trump this month said on Twitter that NASA should focus on Mars.
China, meanwhile, hasn't set a date for a manned moon mission. Beijing landed a robot on the far side of the moon in January and has said humans could follow, without giving a time frame.
Le Gall said there's no plan for Europe to develop its own capacity to send humans to space and "for now" it will stick to being the "passenger."
But space research itself brings benefits, he added, and has led to breakthroughs -- such as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, the Global Positioning System, or GPS, as well as the Teflon, the non-stick coating used in cooking pans.
"Space," Le Gall said, "is a showcase."
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