Space, ESA’s 45 years and the ‘American lesson’. Nespoli: “Rediscover the pioneering spirit”


ESA, the European Space Agency, was born 45 years ago. In a European union that was still called Cee. The deed of foundation was signed on May 30, 1975 in Paris. Ten countries of the “old continent” created a single entity in the name of research, science, exploration. Of curiosity. It was a pioneering vision that took Europe far. But over time it has been a bit lost, according to the Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who writes a letter of good wishes to ESA with the invitation, the spur, to rediscover the courage of the beginnings that became secondary to “national interests and industrial. “

In a nutshell, it was the idea of ​​two great scientists: the Italian Edoardo Amaldi (one of the “guys from via Panisperna”) and the French Pierre Victor Auger: “The two physicists, who believed strongly in the need to combine skills, resources and scientific interests of the various European nations, in the early 1950s they were instrumental in the founding of the European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN). In the following decade they had directed their attention to space, urging the creation of a European organization that could keep up of the two superpowers that then shared the sector: the Soviet Union and the United States “writes Nespoli on his blog.

Today, 45 years ago, ESA was born, strongly desired by two eminent scientists such as Edoardo Amaldi and Pierre Victor Auger, …

Published by Paolo Nespoli on Friday 29 May 2020

The two blocks also challenged each other on a military level, while in the act of foundation of the European Space Agency, the expression “exclusively peaceful purposes” is reiterated in the text four times, the European Space Agency can operate only for peaceful purposes . Among the premises, the observation that “the magnitude of the human, technical and financial resources necessary for activities in the space sector is such that these resources remain outside the means of each individual European country”. Nobody possessed to afford to invest as much as the US and the USSR. Thus Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Holland, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain signed the birth of the European space agency.

Europe in space

In 45 years, ESA has become a power of space exploration and has stimulated a sector, that of the new space economy, which has seen unprecedented growth in recent years. With her, Europe has come a long way. In 1986 Giotto peeked into the crown of Halley’s comet and observed its nucleus, 30 years later, Rosetta buzzed around another comet and her little lander landed on it. We arrived around Venus, now headed for Mercury riding Bepicolombo. Solar orbiter is also on its way to our star.

An ESA vehicle is still the vehicle that carried out the most distant soft landing: it was the Huygens spacecraft that landed on the ground of the moon of Saturn, Titan, in 2005, giving us the opportunity to admire the panorama downhill on an alien world. While Cassini, his mother probe, fruit of Esa’s collaboration with NASA and the Italian Space Agency, revolved around the Lord of the rings, making us participate for 20 years in extraordinary scientific discoveries.

ESA, with Mars Express and the Tgo of the Exomars mission, has been in orbit around Mars for years. To see a European rover scarrozzo on the red planet we will have to wait until 2022-2023. While we are gearing up for the Moon. In tandem with NASA, for the Gateway and as supplier of the capsule service module that will make the next American pioneers land.

Europe around the Earth

In orbit around the Earth there are dozens of satellites from the Old continent. One part are telescopes and scientific probes that scrutinize the cosmos to reveal its secrets, one of them is Hubble. Others watch us. They are the guardians of our planet. They allow us to keep an eye on the effects of climate change, prevent its consequences, act in emergencies and keep our infrastructure under control. In this sector, Europe is ahead of all thanks to the Sentinels and the Copernicus constellation. Data is not just for science. They will create a market for services that companies and individuals can exploit without limits. With a satellite geo-positioning constellation, Galileo, we have caught up with the USA (GPS) and Russia (Glonass).

The beauty of science and technological development are not ends in themselves. All this has generated wealth. Every mission, every launch, every new tool and technique are committed for companies in every country, know-how that they can resell and that in some sectors has created excellence to which NASA and other space agencies also refer. Instruments that fly go to Mars in the future to Jupiter and the asteroids. A financial lever to contribute to European development that has become increasingly important over the years. However, we are still a step back from those who have already built the future: “Space, far from comfortable, is precisely the tension for improvement: it is the frontier and the avant-garde, it is what we still do not know but we want to do, it is the measure of our abilities and our determination “writes Nespoli.

Over 40 ESA astronaut missions have been on board the Shuttle, Soyuz and Mir and the International Space Station since the early 1980s thanks to collaboration with NASA. The ESA has put the signature on a beautiful piece of the Iss itself, three of the modules that compose it were built by Thales Alenia space in Turin, as well as the panoramic dome. And in the crew that will land on the Moon, in the next few years, there may also be one of our compatriots. They will fly again soon. Currently in business are Samantha Cristoforetti, Luca Parmitano and Roberto Vittori.

“Rediscovering ambition and pioneering spirit”

But all this is not enough: “In ESA, in recent years, the challenge to the unknown has gradually become secondary to the need to satisfy and compose specific national and industrial interests. Over time, less ambitious and more comfortable goals have outweighed the more difficult challenges, the desire to expand our borders – observes the astronaut, whose letter is a severe declaration of love – today, as Europeans, we can say with certainty that we are present in space, but with equal confidence we know we are not be the main actors. Yet the leading role, still unattainable for any single nation, is what we can and therefore we must aspire to by being together “.

Europe is autonomous in accessing space with two lines of launchers (the French Ariane and the Italian Vega). It also has a spaceport in South America, that of Kourou, in French Guyana (European territory), so far it has never launched astronauts into space because it has never made a vehicle to carry them. And now we look in amazement at Elon Musk’s SpaceX which is about to restore autonomy to the US to launch people into orbit: “The celebration of this important birthday of the Agency happens while an American mission of a private company (and not certainly gigantic) which has shown how the space sector is reconfiguring itself thanks to the initiative and the risk of new, determined and focused actors – underlines Nespoli – is the perfect opportunity to wish ESA to rediscover the pioneering spirit that has distinguished it the birth”.

Overseas, the private sector is making great strides towards exploiting space with the brink given by the government’s unparalleled effort through NASA. And it is ready to fly with its wings and attack the new commercial frontier. “I wish the European Space Agency to reinvigorate that ambition, a bit utopian, which belonged to Amaldi, Auger and many others like them – concludes Nespoli – that ambition which, thanks to the union of resources, capabilities and different stories would allow her to keep up with the future and maybe even anticipate it. Only united and ambitious can we be one of the protagonists of space and dare to write the history of the future.
Happy birthday Esa “.

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