The old proverb states that “it takes a village to raise a child”, but according to the European Space Agency (ESA) it will also take one to ensure the future of space exploration. In an interview given back in September, the ESA Director General Jan Woerner emphasized the importance of establishing a village on the Moon to serve as a home base for a global space program, but before you begin picturing the stuff of science fiction, he added:
“Let me tell you what it won’t mean. Single houses, a school, a church, a swimming pool, a bakery, an undertaker. This is not what I’m thinking about.”
In other words, Woerner is not suggesting that we colonize the Moon, build cities and move families there to reside permanently. Instead, he is envisioning the incremental building of an industrial complex on the Moon where science and technology could be furthered, and from where space missions could one day be launched.
Woerner stated his belief that if mankind is ever going to make any real headway into exploring the far reaches of the galaxy, then humankind’s fragmentary approach to space exploration must inevitably end. Elaborating further, Woerner said that countries independently launching manned and unmanned spacecraft is unlikely to allow humans to develop technology at a fast enough pace to make any meaningful progress toward understanding our universe.
According to Woerner, a more effective space strategy would require a more concerted effort by all the nations of the world to pool resources, share technologies and collaborate to create a permanent installation on the Moon. What he is describing would be similar to the International Space Station but in a fixed form built on the surface of our only natural satellite. The vision he describes would not just involve government agencies, though, but also academic teams from universities around the world and public and private companies interested in helping to advance a greater understanding of space and its exploration.
Telescopes and advanced imaging systems could subsequently be installed to provide new views of the universe that we are not currently able to capture from Earth, and allow astronomers to conduct studies without the influence of the Earth’s electromagnetic field. At the same time, scientific teams could work on developing new imaging and rocket technologies that could allow us to travel faster and more efficiently through space with manned and unmanned spacecraft.
While Woerner’s vision for the future of space exploration is exciting, it’s hard to imagine that it is feasible in our current global climate. China seems determined to forge ahead independently as a show of strength and technological prowess, and the European Space Agency, NASA and Russian space programs are all very independent at this time. Still, nations may one day come to the realization that the only way for us to go where no one has gone before is to cooperate with one another, and as Woerner explains:
“Space has the power to join forces in Europe – and even beyond Europe. We should use it for the sake of humankind.”