“We are all candidates”: seven European astronauts ready to go to the Moon

The European Space Agency (ESA) presented its team of seven astronauts in Paris on Wednesday, including Thomas Pesquet, ready to train to explore the Moon as part of the American Artemis program, among which only one could tread the lunar surface. . The candidates – Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, Germans Alexander Gerst and Matthias Maurer, Italians Luca Parmitano and Samantha Cristoforetti, Dane Andreas Mogensen and Briton Tim Peake – have carried out at least one mission in orbit aboard the International Space Station ( ISS), 400 km above the Earth.

They represent “the equivalent of 4.5 years in orbit, and 98 hours of extravehicular outings”, explained Philippe Willekens, head of ESA, during a press conference at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC ) in Paris.

Among them, only three will be selected for the Lunar Gateway, the future station in lunar orbit, and only one to walk on the lunar ground, by the end of the decade. But the ESA has not yet chosen.

“We are all candidates and what matters is to go there as a team. Look, we are all wearing the same t-shirt”, commented Thomas Pesquet, who with his colleagues Alexander Gerst, Matthias Maurer and Luca Parmitano sported a navy blue polo shirt flanked by the ESA and Artemis logos. Samantha Cristoforetti, on a mission aboard the ISS, and Andreas Mogensen, ready to take off for the station, spoke from a distance.

ESA (22 Member States) participates in the American program to return to the Moon Artemis, in particular with its ESM service module placed under the Orion capsule of the first mission which is due to take off soon, without an astronaut on board.

For the next Artemis flights, manned this time, the European agency has already negotiated the sending of three of its astronauts to the Lunar Gateway. Then, if the experiment succeeds, “there will be a lucky one” who could tread the lunar surface, explained to AFP David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at ESA.

A European on the Moon would be “something inspiring for Europe, a strong sign to say ‘here we are, we hold our place in the space world, and in a cooperative way'”, commented Thomas Pesquet. Who said he was “enthusiastic” about the concept of the European manned vehicle Susie, which ArianeGroup will present at the ESA ministerial conference at the end of November.

“With a European on the Moon, I hope that a united Europe will become more of a reality than it is today,” added the German Matthias Maurer.

Astronaut training is developing, in particular at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany, where a simulator of the Selene surface and its “so aggressive” dust is being built, he explained.

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