Space chief hopes for ‘Kennedy moment’ from European leaders

Jun 22, 2022, 7:39 AM | Updated: 2:57 pm

Director General of the European Space Agency Josef Aschbacher attends a press conference of the ES...

Director General of the European Space Agency Josef Aschbacher attends a press conference of the ESA as part of the ILA Berlin Air Show in Schoenefeld near Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, June 22, 2022. The Berlin Air Show takes place from June 22 until June 26, 2022 at the Berlin ExpoCenter Airport fairground close to the airport Berlin Brandenburg (BER). (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

(AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

BERLIN (AP) — Josef Aschbacher recalls gazing at the night sky above his parents’ Alpine farm when he was 7, trying to comprehend what he had just seen on the family’s black-and-white TV set: the landing of NASA’s Apollo 11 on the Moon.

More than half a century later, Aschbacher heads the European Space Agency, a formidable force when it comes to scientific exploration, telecoms and Earth observation. But so far, the agency is still unable to put its own astronauts into orbit, relying on Russia and the United States for crewed spaceflight and some other high-profile missions.

The 59-year-old aims to change that and hopes the recent turmoil caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will jolt European leaders into action.

“I think the war in Ukraine has made politicians realize that we are a bit vulnerable and we have to make sure that we have our own secured access to space and our space infrastructure,” Aschbacher told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday at Berlin’s ILA air show.

Within days of the Russian attack on Feb. 24, the European Space Agency abandoned long-standing plans for a joint mission with Russia to land a rover on Mars.

“The ExoMars situation is a wake up call on how Europe needs to position itself,” said Aschbacher. He recently held talks with NASA chief Bill Nelson to find a way of salvaging the mission without Russia, and is “very hopeful” the lander will make it to the red planet.

In the long term, however, Aschbacher said “it is clear that for critical components, for critical missions, we need to make sure that we can do it (ourselves).” Earlier this year he hinted that this could include crewed launches.

He praised a recent speech by Emmanuel Macron — delivered days before Russia invaded Ukraine — in which the French president called for a bolder European space policy.

“That was a bit of a Kennedy moment, but we need to hear this in other countries as well,” Aschbacher said, referring to U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s speech in 1962 — at the height of the Cold War — detailing plans to land a man on the moon. “I would hope that the same Kennedy moment would happen in Germany and Italy, in the UK and Belgium and so on.”

Such ambition is also needed if Europe wants to capitalize on the growing space economy fueled by private ventures such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, he said.

European astronauts at the ILA show spoke of a change in tone when dealing with commercial companies that are focused more on the financial gains to be made in orbit than on the lofty ideals of international cooperation which underpinned collaboration between major space agencies.

“There is a huge growth predicted for the next years in space,” said Aschbacher. “That’s why private companies are firing it up and investing in it. Europe has to be part of it.”

“If we don’t increase our investment, we will be thrown out of this race,” he said.

With European nations now pumping billions into defense in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, governments should keep in mind other areas in which their countries are dependent on others and therefore vulnerable, Aschbacher added.

“If there’s a war happening in front of our door, we need to be sure that you can get your phone working and you can get your navigation system working,” he said. “This is part of security in a wider sense.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


A woman pauses while shopping at a Kohl's store in Clifton, N.J., Jan. 26, 2024. On Thursday, Feb. ...

Associated Press

Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge picked up last month in sign of still-elevated prices

An inflation gauge favored by the Federal Reserve increased in January, the latest sign that the slowdown in U.S. consumer price increases is occurring unevenly from month to month.

18 hours ago

This undated image provided by Mikel Desmond shows his brother Marcus Tessier, who turned up in Dem...

Associated Press

Missing teen with autism found in New Mexico, about 200 miles away from his Arizona home

A missing teen with autism has been found in New Mexico — about 200 miles away from his home in southern Arizona.

19 hours ago

A newly released report on last year’s fatal crash involving a pickup truck and a group of bicycl...

Associated Press

Report suggests steering of vehicle that caused fatal Goodyear bicycle crash worked fine

A new report on last year’s fatal Goodyear bicycle crash has cast doubts about the driver’s claim the vehicle’s steering locked up.

2 days ago

Israeli Embassy...

Associated Press

US airman dies after setting himself ablaze outside Israeli Embassy in Israel-Hamas war protest

An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force has died after he set himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

4 days ago

Biden and Trump to visit Mexico border Thursday immigration...

Associated Press

Biden and Trump both plan trips to the Mexico border Thursday, dueling for advantage on immigration

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will make dueling trips to the U.S-Mexico border on Thursday.

4 days ago

Arizona and New York attorneys feud over extraditing suspect...

Associated Press

Why Alvin Bragg and Rachel Mitchell are fighting over extraditing suspect in New York hotel killing

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell says she isn't into extraditing a suspect due to her lack of faith in Manhattan’s top prosecutor.

8 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

Space chief hopes for ‘Kennedy moment’ from European leaders