ORLANDO, Fla., February 16 (UPI), Europe needs its crewed spaceship to build its space industry and talent, astronauts who gathered in France said in an official manifesto Wednesday.
Dozens of astronauts endorsed the statement that “we need to be able to count on our own autonomous access to space for humans,” according to the manifesto presented at the 2022 European Space Summit.
Europe has seven active-duty astronauts and has launched many more, but only on SpaceX Dragon capsules, U.S. space shuttles, and Russian Soyuz capsules.
Europe uses Ariane 5 rockets to launch satellites, but it has no crewed vehicle.
There are many reasons for the call for a new spacecraft, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano told UPI.
“If you look around in Europe right now, there is a vibrancy, a specific frequency of energy that you can feel when you walk into a room to talk about space,” Parmitano said.
“As European astronauts, we know very well that space exploration is hard. But we also know that Europe has what it takes: capabilities and ambition.”
He said the ESA selection of new astronauts this year prompted many to think about the future.
Recently, Two European astronauts have launched to space on a SpaceX mission, Thomas Pesquet, and Matthias Maurer, while on April 15, a third, Samantha Cristoforetti, plans to launch with SpaceX.
Samantha Parmitano said, “I would like to be able to tell the new class of astronauts, yes, there is a chance for them to fly into space with a European rocket and operate in space with other Europeans and other international partners and give a demonstration of what we are capable of doing.”
Ariane 5 rocket launched the James Webb Space Telescope in December.
The rocket’s performance was so well, as Europe’s contribution to the mission, that the telescope itself had to use minimal fuel to reach orbit.
“I believe that it was the time for us astronauts to take a stand and to give direction about … where we see our role now,” Parmitano said.
On Twitter, Cristoforetti added reason for such a spacecraft, “Europe needs new unifying dreams to keep its talent in Europe.”
And finally, Luca Parmitano said costs for building spacecraft have come down steadily since Europe canceled a plan to build a miniature version of the space shuttle in the 1990s.
“This can be done for billions of dollars now, instead of hundreds of billions,” he said.
In an interview, Amy Foster, a professor of space history at the University of Central Florida, said that Geopolitics and History also might underlie the call for an independent European spaceship.
“It certainly doesn’t surprise me, given the tensions with Russia over Ukraine, and the rise of the private space industry around the world,” Foster said. “Europe has had to play third wheel in terms of their crewed launches, along with Japan, so maybe it does make sense that this is the right time to stretch their own legs.”
She noted that NASA plans to retire the ISS in 2030 and move to commercial space stations while planning crewed trips to Mars and the Moon.
Foster said, “I can see why Europe would want to plan for their own crewed presence in space. Cooperation in space between nations, like Russia and the U.S., has always been very challenging.”