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The race to the moon.  Who is the first to define the rules.

The race to the moon. Who is the first to define the rules.

The Orion space capsule has returned to Earth after the Artemis 1 lunar mission

The uncrewed Orion space capsule from NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission has returned to Earth after nearly four weeks in space: it landed safely in the Pacific Ocean. The goal of the Artemis program is to establish a permanent presence on the moon.


The United States is there, Europe and Russia too, China anyway, but also Mexico, Thailand, Israel and Turkey: they are all preparing for lunar missions. What do they all want there?

After nearly four weeks in space, the uncrewed Orion capsule of NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar mission landed safely on Earth yesterday. The test flight is an important step in returning humans to the moon. This is already planned for the coming years.

After the first manned flight – “Artemis 2” – around the Moon, the US Federal Space and Aeronautics Agency wants to send another manned space capsule to the Moon with “Artemis 3” from 2025.

View of part of the far side of the Moon behind the Orion spacecraft. Taken on November 21, 2022 by a camera at the top of one of Orion’s solar fields on day six of the Artemis I mission to the Moon.


NASA placed the last human on the Moon with the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 – almost 50 years ago. Shortly thereafter, the Apollo program was discontinued for cost reasons.

But it’s not just Americans who are now willing to invest heavily in traveling to the moon again. The European Space Agency (ESA) and space agencies from several other countries are involved in the project, which currently has a cost of about $30 billion.

The moon will develop into an economic zone

“We will return to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and to inspire a new generation of explorers,” NASA said.

US Navy divers attach winch cables to NASA's Orion capsule after NASA and US Navy teams successfully secure it off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, December 11, 2022.
US Navy divers attach winch cables to NASA’s Orion capsule after NASA and US Navy teams successfully secure it off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, December 11, 2022.

Photo: Getty Images

Josef Ashbacher, Director General of the European Space Agency, also sees great opportunities in the development of the Moon: “We have a certain idea of ​​what economic benefits this can bring us.” However, the full potential cannot yet be assessed. “But I am personally convinced that it is worth it. When Columbus came to America, he did not even know what all this meant at first.

One thing is certain: some kind of lunar economic sector with outposts should be created in orbit. This is what space agencies are working for. Landing sensors, robotic vehicles, navigation satellites and modern communication technology should make possible the future exploitation of the Earth’s satellite, which is 380,000 km away.

Claims and create facts

However, NASA and ESA are not alone in having this vision. A number of other nations have recognized the moon’s economic potential. In a recent analysis, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based foreign policy think tank, counted 106 planned lunar missions by 19 countries and space agencies.

And while the moon race between the USA and the Soviet Union in the 1960s revolved primarily around their flag in the moon, i.e. national pride and prestige, efforts today are aimed at big business. States and corporations like to put forward claims, create facts, and thus enforce their own legal framework.

Europe is lagging behind in commercial spaceflight

After a two-year delay, the launch of the new carrier rocket of the European Space Agency Esa is finally scheduled for the end of 2023: “Ariane 6”. With improved engines and more carrying capacity than its predecessor, the Ariane 5, it aims to boost commercial European space travel – not least as a competitor to the “Falcon 9” of the US company SpaceX. Its founder, Elon Musk, has been distinguished in recent years by an aggressive pricing policy and marketing strategy.

Just one day before yesterday, a Falcon 9 rocket aboard the Japanese commercial lunar lander “Hakuto-R” took off from Cape Canaveral space base in the US state of Florida towards the moon. If all goes well, it will be the world’s first private moon mission to succeed. Two other US contenders plan to take a more direct path to the Moon early next year. Commercial races to the moon also began.

Private access to space is essential

The development of “Ariane 6” cost almost four billion euros, and 600 companies from all over Europe participated in it. However, this is less about research or the moon program. Europe intends to use it to launch medium and large satellites into space in the future.

The new launch vehicle is important for Europe’s independent access to space. Because modern communications, navigation, weather forecasts, observations of changes in the seas, rivers, and atmosphere, or reactions to disasters such as massive forest fires and floods, are based on data from space. And countries that do not have access to space are, so to speak, blind, deaf and dumb.

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