Almost a century ago, George Herbert Leigh Mallory was asked why he wanted to become the first man to successfully scale Mount Everest.
His reply became the most famous words in mountaineering: “Because it’s there.”
Today, men and women are headed back to the moon a half century after man first set foot on Earth’s only natural satellite. And that’s not only because ‘it’s there’—but, rather, as the Moon could become a permanent base for human life as well as a launching point for future space exploration missions, including Mars.
“There has been a change in the roadmap” says Walter Cugno, Thales Alenia Space Vice President, Space and Exploration,
“There is now a focus back on the moon to create a permanent human presence there as well as place to prepare for possible human colonization of Mars.” Walter Cugno, Thales Alenia Space Vice President, Space and Exploration
He also says that, while there is much to learn about the Moon and Mars, these missions will provide important lessons for life on planet Earth. “As we have already seen with the International Space Station (ISS), we can develop ways of human living that reduce the use of resources and reduce pollution to a minimum. That is critical to human life on our planet we see from the challenges of saving our own environment.”
Thales Alenia Space provided half of the International Space Station’s pressurized volume, which is equivalent to 40% of the entire ISS and it manufactures the Pressurized Cargo Modules for Cygnus vessels, that are dedicated to deliver supplies including food, water, equipment for experiments in space as well as other equipment for repairs and other purposes on the station. “We have played a very significant role in the ISS capability to develop the infrastructure for people to stay permanently and safely in space and to operate there through our robotics and mobility solutions,” says Walter Cugno.
Equipping a Spaceship for the Moon
And, now, Thales Alenia Space is poised to continue that tradition of helping to push the frontiers of human space travel. It has won a contract with the European Space Agency for studies of two key elements for man’s latest attempt to go to the moon, the Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway. That is a small spaceship that will orbit the Moon and provide a temporary home and office for astronauts, about a five-day, 400,000 kilometer commute from the Earth.
The Gateway will be a true training laboratory for astronaut expeditions to the Moon and future human missions to Mars, including practice moving a spaceship in different orbits in deep space, and docking ports for visiting spacecraft. It will provide the project’s partners, the European Space Agency and NASA in particular, increased access to the lunar surface, supporting both human and robotic missions.
Thales Alenia Space will use its extensive experience in equipping the ISS on its two lead studies.
The first one is for I-HAB, a pressurized element with habitability and life support functions, as well as docking capabilities to provide interfaces and resources for visiting vehicles. It will represent a new generation of modules for deep space exploration with lighter structures with more comfortable habitable interiors.
The second study is for ESPRIT, a propellant storage and refuelling system for the Gateway’s propulsion, as well as communications systems with the moon, interface points for external payloads and a scientific airlock.
Thales Alenia Space’s Walter Cugno is not surprised by the key role the company plays in humanity’s latest big leap into space. “It’s a matter of experience with hundreds of missions, starting in the early seventies in developing human and robotic solutions and infrastructure for NASA’s Space Shuttle program,” he says.
“We are unique in being able to both design and build pressurized elements for human flight, as well as robotics and communications for space exploration." Walter Cugno, Thales Alenia Space Vice President, Space and Exploration
Cugno concludes by looking even further ahead than the ‘immediate’ challenge of first arriving back on the moon by 2024—in only five years’ time. “We are unique in being able to both design and build pressurized elements for human flight, as well as robotics and communications for space exploration. So, we are confident in our ability support permanent human occupation of the moon by the next decade—and then sending people to Mars during the following ten years.”