Europe is gathering organizational strenth to shoot for the Moon. Credit: NASA

Europe is gathering organizational strenth to shoot for the Moon.
Credit: NASA

Try and not let the “Mars-now” folks know.

But there is increasing interest in Europe to prioritize the Moon as humankind’s next deep space destination.

That was clearly evident given an international symposium held December 15-16 on “Moon 2020-2030 – A New Era of Coordinated Human and Robotic Exploration,” staged at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ESTEC in Noordwijk, The Netherlands.

Exploration telepresence

An active participant and organizer of the meeting was U.S. astronomer Dan Lester, a consultant and telerobotics expert. He provided Inside Outer Space some post-meeting, personal observations:

“The meeting was quite good. Lots of excitement about Moon-related efforts,” Lester said. “One big takeaway message — at least for me — was that exploration telepresence is no longer an off-the-wall idea, but one that seemed to be threaded throughout the conference. This conference seemed to accept that it was a new way of doing exploration.”

The European Space Agency is exploring the promise of 3D printing to enable construction of lunar habitats. Credit: ESA/ Foster + Partners

The European Space Agency is exploring the promise of 3D printing to enable construction of lunar habitats.
Credit: ESA/ Foster + Partners

Lester advised that a strong recommendation that will be coming out of the meeting is that real analog studies will be necessary to understand how to do operations on the Moon.

Not analog operations at a Moon-like site which can be hugely expensive, just for travel, but analog operations where geologists use a real rover robot, perhaps just in a rockyard, with vision, dexterity/haptics and low latency control to do real-time field geology,” he said.

One other theme that was clear from the meeting, there is a load of important science that still needs to be done on the Moon. “That was a regular reminder at this meeting,” Lester said.

Wanted: coordinated prospecting program

Also bullish on the European meeting and a U.S. meeting organizer is Clive Neal, professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

“The meeting was excellent with over 200 people attending with 28 countries represented,” Neal told Inside Outer Space.

Neal said that take home messages were numerous.

“We keep talking about lunar resources, but we still need to demonstrate they can be used…they are, in fact, reserves. So ground truth verification of deposit size, composition, form, and homogeneity requires a coordinated prospecting program. A successful program would then clearly demonstrate that lunar resources can enable solar system exploration,” Neal said.

NASA sidelined

Technology development was highlighted in the meeting, Neal said, in terms of precision landing, robotic sample return, and cryogenic sampling, caching, return, and curation.

Inside look at one idea the European Space Agency is exploring to fabricate a lunar habitat. Credit: ESA/ Foster + Partners

Inside look at one idea the European Space Agency is exploring to fabricate a lunar habitat.
Credit: ESA/ Foster + Partners

 

“Significant investments in the latter are required and starting to be made,” Neal said.

Quantifying the benefits from government investment in space exploration is critical for convincing both governments and the private sector to invest in such endeavors, Neal said.

In other meeting news, Neal said, it was evident that partnerships — especially between ESA and Russia — are maturing rapidly.

“NASA appears to be sidelined in this endeavor, which is alarming but a product of our current space policy,” Neal concluded.

 

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