In light of developments in Ukraine, the European Space Agency (ESA) has found it impossible to cooperate with Russia anymore. The partnership for three planned lunar exploration missions has been suspended. ESA is now looking for other partners.
The Russians, angry at the sanctions imposed in Ukraine since the start of the war, have already pulled back the missiles that Europe wanted to carry into space. The interim result is that expensive European satellites will not only launch from Earth, but also missions to Mars. “It’s as if we could go back in time 30 years,” says astronaut Andre Kuipers.
The director general of the European Space Agency, Josef Asbacher, fears science has been delayed for years. It will also cost a lot of money. Now we have to manufacture European or American missiles and replace all Russian parts in common equipment.
Until now, space travel has been shielded from all political developments. until that time. These are the consequences:
Cooperation with Russia is planned for the lunar missions Luna-25, Luna-26 and Luna-27. Missions aimed at testing devices – in cooperation with the Russian space agency Roscosmos. And in September, a joint mission will put a new robot on the surface of Mars. Both missions were canceled because the European Space Agency found that they were incompatible with sanctions against the Russians.
Countries that do not get along well on Earth, such as Russia and the United States, often do well together in space. According to Kuipers, the ISS International Space Station, in which Japan, Europe and Canada also participate, is a great example of this. “We all started building that space station. It was built for the benefit of the whole world by all of us. By countries that used to be at war with each other.”
Kuipers hoped that the space station would continue to exist as a neutral zone. Talking about politics was avoided even when he was there ten years ago. “When I spoke to my Russian colleagues and went to Putin, they were silent. They avoided the conversation. There is a culture of fear; they are afraid for their career and their future. You will notice it and then it is enough right there. So we are not talking about it.” But the question is whether this will remain the case. Russia has threatened to pull the stream several times.
The European Space Agency now wants to pick up canceled missions with other space agencies. The suspension of cooperation with the Russians is also a reason for the European Space Agency (ESA) to think carefully about the strategic independence of Europe. “I don’t need to explain that independence is more important today than it was two months ago,” Ashbacher says. “We should be able to put satellites into orbit on our own, for example.”
Astronaut Kuipers has great confidence in that. “The Western world is already doing commercial space exploration. We can do a lot of things without the Russians. We need other missiles, but we can do it. The question is what the Russians will do. That might be very good. Manned spaceflight is over before Russia. Then they cut their fingers.”
In the long term, the European Space Agency (ESA) sees a positive side to the developments. Schbacher: “European space will become more robust, independent and resilient. We are making difficult decisions now, but in the long term we will certainly benefit from this experience.”
Then more unity is needed, Kuipers believes. “There is a patriotic love in NASA. If an Italian astronaut was launched in Europe, he wouldn’t really be impressed in Finland. They keep fighting to make politicians understand how important space travel is. It would be very nice if we Europe were no longer dependent on countries other”.
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