Now Reading:

How much space do we need?


How much space do we need?


Alex Taylor: While some Europeans are drowning in an economic nightmare, others – to paraphrase Oscar Wilde – are looking at the stars. In Europe we have always, despite everything, been impelled to explore space, but why do we do it and how much does it cost? We put your questions to Jean-Jacques Dordain, the director of the European Space Agency (ESA). So the principle of I talk: fast questions, fast answers. We’ll start with this question.”

Carlos from Spain: “In the current context of the economic crisis in Europe, is it reasonable to invest so much public money in space exploration?”

Alex Taylor: “I’ve read that your budget is 4 billion euros. Do we have enough money to invest in space exploration?”

Jean-Jacques Dordain: “Well 4 billion euros divided by the population of Europe means 10 euros per person, but no-one in Europe could live without satellites even if they don’t realise it. Space is useful in our daily lives. So we’re not really just star-gazing, exploring space improves our daily lives on earth.”

Alex Taylor: “Tell us a bit about this budget. Is it directly financed by individual countries? Because it’s not just financed by the EU is it? Countries like Switzerland and Norway also help finance the Space Agency, don’t they?”

Jean-Jacques Dordain: “Yes, the European Space Agency is an intergovernmental agency with 20 Member States: 18 EU countries and 2 non-Eu countries, Switzerland and Norway. So the budget is made up of around 3 billion euros directly from Member States and another billion that comes from the European Commission, because we also work in the name of the European Commission, notably on the Galileo and GMS programmes.

Alex Taylor: “And now a second question for Mr Dordain.”

Charline from Belgium: “My name is Charlene, I am Belgian and my question is: are there plans to visit any other planets as well as Mars in the coming years?”

Jean-Jacques Dordain: “Well, we have projects to go to Mars and we’re preparing two missions to Mars, one in 2016 and the other in 2018.”

Alex Taylor: “When you say “we”, you mean Europeans. Can we get there alone or do we need the Americans or the Russians?”

Jean-Jacques Dordain: “We are doing it in co-operation with the Russians because it isn’t a matter of visiting planets so we can be the first to put a flag up there… that time is long gone. Now exploring planets is done with international co-operation with all the other countries exploring space. We – and by that I mean the European – we co-operate with the Americans, the Russians, the Chinese, and the Japanese. So in fact we have a project that will put us on Mars with a mission that will take off in 2018. And it will be importat because it will be the first mission during which we will be able to dig up the surface of Mars, to a depth of at least 2 metres, because if there are any biological traces on Mars, they will be at least that deep. So what we’re looking for is traces of a life, of whatever sort, since we know that there was once lots of water on Mars, that there was once an atmosphere, and so we need to find out if there are traces of life on Mars.”

Alex Taylor: “And now another question on space.”

Martin from the UK: “My name is Martin Lang, I’m from Scotland and the question I have is: there has been lots of talk in the press recently about more economic cooperation between Europe and the need for more Europe. Do you think that it’s also true in space exploration and space research? Do you think the future of Europe is together in space? Or do you feel that we can work more as individual countries?”

Alex Taylor: “Do you have the same problems between your different partners about budgets as they have at EU level?”

Jean-Jacques Dordain: “Well, co-operation is always difficult. It is always easier not to co-operate but, at least in space, we can show that co-operation leads to success since today all space activity in Europe is carried out in co-operation, whether it is in the frawework of The European Sapce Agency, or in the framework of the EU, or even in bilateral and trilateral partnerships between certain ember States. There are practically no remaining national programmes in the space sector because satellites cross frontiers and therefore give us a vision of the earth which is much more global and so international co-operation is essential and I think that space exploration shows that Europe is a success.”

Alex Taylor: “Another very simple but very important question.”

Mathieu in France: “This is Matthew from Marseille. What use is ESA in our daily lives?”

Alex Taylor: “I said it was simple. What use is it?”

Jean-Jacques Dordain: “Ok, it has three main uses. It pushes the boundaries of our knowledge. And when we look at planets like Venus or Mars, it’s not really the planets which interest us, but the future of the earth. I mean the earth is only a planet like all the others and studying Mars and Vénus gives us a lot of information about earth. The Greenhouse Gas effect was discovered in the atmosphere of Venus before we understood it on earth. So knowledge. It also helps us be competitive because it helps us develop new completely new technologies which helps us maintain our technological competitiveness.
And finally, it provices services to our citizens: weather forecasting, navigation and telecommunications services. And there isn’t anyone in Europe who could live without satellites even if they don’t know it. So space exploration is very useful.”

Alex Taylor: “And now a question from Nurtay in Kazakhstan: does the galaxy have frontiers or is it infinite? It’s a difficult question and I’d like your opinion. Since I was a child I’ve been asking this question but until now I’ve never had any answer.”

Jean-Jacques Dordain: “A galaxy, is a collection of stars so of course it must have a frontier and a boundary. It is finite in the sense of not being infinite. But perhaps the question doesn’t only apply to the galaxy but to the universe, which is a collection of galaxies. The universe doesn’t have frontiers, but it isn’t infinite. So it isn’t very easy to explain but the experts tell me that I have to think of an ant which is walking on a ball. This ant will never arrive at the frontier, but it is on a finite surface and so I think that that’s how we should think of the universe. So now, I want to reassure you that at least 97% of our universe remains un-known to us. Our knowledge of the universe is very very limited, so what I’d say to you today is don’t quote me in a 100 years time!”

Alex Taylor: “So I hope that at last Nurtay is happy to have a proper answer. One last question on I-Talk. And Sarang from Finland wants to know if the crisis will have an impact on the launch of Galileo and if yes, what kind of delay it might mean?”

Jean-Jacques Dordain: “There will be no delay, we have already launched four Galileo satellites. So Galileo is a reality, four satellites are now in orbit and I have committed to launching 18 Galileo satellites before the end of 2014 and we’re going to do it. The economic crisis will have no effect on this because the industrial contracts are signed and secondly the economic value of the Galileo constellation is huge and is going to improve transport systems enormously and so the economic value of Galileo is massive. Simply speaking, the economic crisis means we have to pay attention to each euro spent and that’s what we’re doing with the European Commission.”

Alex Taylor: “So what’s your real feeling, deep down? Is there intelligent life, apart from us of course, somewhere in the universe?”

Jean-Jacques Dordain: “Me, I’m certain of it because there is no statistical reason why there would only be one place in the universe where there is life. You know, fifteen years ago, we hadn’t yet seen planets outside the solar system, but ow we are discovering a new one every two weeks. So now we’re sure of it, there are lots of planets in the universe and I would be amazed if there wasn’t, on some planet somewhere, some sort of life form. Almost certainly not the same life form as we have on earth, but certainly a life form. Yes, I think so.”

Alex Taylor: “Perhaps they’re even watching Euronews! Mr Dordain, thank you for those answers. And thank YOU for your questions. We’ll see you soon on another I-Talk – and many thanks to the audiovisual service at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Next Article