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Science

ESA head Wörner: 'I want to make a difference'

Johann-Dietrich Wörner has become the new Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) on July 1, 2015. In an interview with DW, he explains his aspirations to bring space cooperation to a new level.

DW: As the new director of the ESA, what kind of impetus would you like to give?

At the moment, the ESA has 22 members plus Canada. It is a very heterogeneous starting situation. I have already talked informally to the different countries right from the beginning. I asked them, “What do you expect from the ESA?” This is an essential starting point of our future work. They said that they'd like to work on the European space industry. This is fantastic. They said that they'd like to accomplish large scale projects together. The subject matter itself is good.

However, they have hardly spoken of the European spirit. I think that is an aspect that I can and will work on. I believe that more efforts are needed than before to hold Europe together. In the space industry, we have an opportunity to contribute to a more united Europe.

Are there any specific goals that you would like to achieve, or topics you would like to address?

There are already certain topics, like the International Space Station, questions of the ExoMars mission, or the new Ariane 6. However, I believe that during our discussion, we will have to decide on what we are going to do, for instance, after the International Space Station. We need visionary projects. I have already introduced a mission to build a permanent station on the dark side of the moon to be used for robots as well as astronauts. However, this should not merely be an ESA mission, but rather a truly global enterprise that enables all countries engaged in the space industry to have access to it. I think such projects will help us in the future to use space as more than just a means to solve problems here on earth.

Has the agenda for this permanent moon station been set?

We will need many years of preparation, and we will first have to see whether the other ESA member states, as well as our international partners, will regard this as a long-term matter. In the past decades, there have been numerous discussions of possible moon station, by the Americans, by the Russians. It is now considering the preparation time needed - the right moment to talk about it. The ISS is flying at least until the middle of the next decade. We need to use this period of time to bring a new common project off the ground. The moon station could be such a project.

What is the position of Europe in an international context?

During the Cold War, the space race was much about national interests. We have overcome that, fortunately. Today we have arrived at a new era of cooperation in space. Europe plays a major role here, because we are bringing forth important projects. We have reached a comet with Rosetta, and landed on it with the German-operated Philae. Italy and France were also involved. Germany and Europe have now gained international recognition through these efforts. We should take advantage of this, and not rest on our laurels, by starting new international space projects.

What are your thoughts about future cooperation with Russia?

When I see international cooperation, this involves not only Russia, but all countries in the world. We have seen earlier that such cooperation in space was possible, even during the Cold War. The space industry should, just like science, be the unifying element even in times of diplomatic crisis. It would be good if we could already prepare ourselves, during a confrontation, for the after-crisis situation. Therefore I hope that - and everything shows that - we will manage this.

Is preserving the relationship with Russia also one of the ESA's tasks?

At the ESA, we know what international work means. Thus, it is an ideal mediator between the East and the West. We have already solid cooperation with Russia, while having an excellent relationship with the US. The ESA can fulfill this important task.

Professor Johann-Dietrich Wörner was the chairman of the executive committee of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) since March 1, 2007. On 1 July 2015, he has assumed office as the new Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA).

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