The idea to build a village on the Moon is still not more than that, an idea. But already the head of the European Space Agency (ESA) is receiving drawings from concept artists on how such a village should look.
“I always say: ‘Nice, thank you very much, it’s impressive, but first of all we have to see if there is the European spirit of exploration and pioneering strong enough to finance European access’,” said Johann-Dietrich Woerner in an interview with EUobserver.
People have asked the ESA chief whether the Moon village will have churches, and whether astronauts will live in single houses or compounds, but that is not quite the type of village Woerner is talking about.
“I did not say that it is a village as on Earth. The word Moon village should mean that we are putting together the capabilities of different actors, be it private companies or public,” he said.
“It should be an open environment for multiple users and multiple uses.”
The inhabitants can be both human and robotic. There is still a lot of scientific research to be done. “[The Moon] is very interesting because it is something like an archive of history of the Earth.”
But it can also be a test ground for further space exploration.
“If we go further in our solar system – and I’m quite sure that humans will go to Mars, and beyond – the Moon is a perfect stepping stone,” said Woerner.
He sees the Moon as a possible learning facility for space exploration and that could function as a “pit stop”.
The Moon is on average 384,400 kilometres from the Earth, while the distance to Mars is almost 600 times greater. Travelling to the Moon and back can be done in a week, while Woerner estimates a return journey to Mars at between a year and a half and two years.
“From a point of view of health, of radiation, the Moon is much easier, so we can learn on the Moon. … The Moon is really a nice place to go.”
Talks in the past seven months have bolstered Woerner’s confidence that the proposal will become reality.
“I got the information that several space-faring nations are saying: ‘okay we are planning a mission to the Moon anyhow, so we can combine it with the idea of Moon village,’” he noted, adding the Americans have expressed interest because of their planned journey to Mars.
The German official said he has not yet asked any of ESA’s member states for political or financial commitments, but he will propose the plan at the body’s upcoming ministerial council at the end of this year.
“If there is not a better idea by then, then the Moon village will be discussed. … It will not be the question whether it will be financed, because we are right now discussing the financing of ISS, but to see what the member states have in mind, what type of international activity they would like to see after the ISS.”
The European Space Agency, an intergovernmental body, is separate from the European Union, although many European countries are a member of both. But plans from several years ago to make the ESA part of the EU have been put on hold.
“It’s not possible today,” Woerner said about the idea to make ESA an EU agency.
He noted that member states seem to like the fact that ESA is an intergovernmental body, and not a supranational one.
“This one-country-one-vote, that the countries are directly the programme authorities for our programmes – they would lose this capability if we are an EU agency.”
“It’s not on the table today to merge the European Space Agency with the European Commission, but I would never say never,” he noted, adding that it would “probably make sense” to make the body an EU agency when the bloc becomes a true federation that also includes countries like Norway and Switzerland.
“But we don’t have that situation. We are farther away from a United States of Europe. If you look at the political situation, we are not close to that.”