NASA plans to send humans to the moon regularly. The only Swiss astronaut Claude Nicolier thinks it’s a good idea — even if the first unmanned test flight is cancelled.
Nearly 50 years ago, people last set foot on the moon: With the ambitious Artemis program, NASA wants to send astronauts to the moon regularly within a few years. Although the first unnamed test flight shortly before liftoff on Monday, August 29 was thwarted by engine problems: the future of large-scale manned space travel is still being planned.
Good, I think so Claude Nicolier. The only Swiss astronaut to date is happy to awaken the spirit of discovery in space travel. Of course, he doesn’t want to take off again by himself, as he revealed in an interview with Blue News.
Claude Nicolier (photo from 1999) is the first and to date only Swiss astronaut. Born in Fife in 1944, he traveled to space four times between 1992 and 1999. During his first space walk in 1999, Nicolier helped repair the Hubble telescope. Following his career in space, Claude Nicolier taught and researched at EPFL Lausanne.
With the “Artemis” mission, NASA is making a new attempt at the moon: How do you feel about it as an astronaut and former scientist?
It’s initially an unmanned flight, but also preparing for manned flights in the next few years: I find that very exciting, because with this mission, the taste for exploration and the spirit of discovery returns to international spaceflight.
You’re the only Swiss who’s been in space multiple times: tingle when you hear about NASA’s current plans?
In space again? I may still be able physically, but I’m also at an age where I can let the younger generations take the lead. I ended up with four very interesting and beautiful spaceflights, especially the Hubble spacewalk that was amazing. So it’s not a problem for me to stay grounded and pass on my experiences to the students at ETH in Lausanne.
What did you bring with you from space for your life and your understanding of our planet?
Awareness of our place as humans on a planet is very fragile: this is much better by looking at Earth from space. But the missions were of course also important from a scientific point of view: we gained a lot of new knowledge, especially through the Hubble telescope, with which I was able to contribute a small part of the success.
What distinguishes previous NASA missions to the moon from the “Artemis” program?
The Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s had a clear goal: During the Cold War, the United States was all about showing the Soviet Union that they had the ability to land on the moon and that they could get a human there and back again.
Of course, the program was also an important scientific step in manned space travel, but the goal was clearly political and was achieved in 1969 with “Apollo 11,” the moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Because of the many resources used, the program continued on more lunar missions until “Apollo 17” in December 1972. But of course that was very expensive, so there was no reason to continue missions after that.
For 50 years no one has been on the moon: why does NASA want to go there again now?
After the end of Apollo, there was plenty to explore in low Earth orbit. That’s what the space shuttles and the International Space Station (ISS) were built for. The International Space Station is a good platform for learning, for example, how people can live in space under special conditions for a long time.
But now we are going one step further. Moving to the Moon and later on to Mars is very important in terms of exploration. It’s time to get out again. Not least because of the big question: Can people live on other celestial bodies for the long term? And using the resources available there.
Should people fly to the moon again?
Why should people live long-term on other celestial bodies?
This is the general interest of mankind. Should we stay on Earth forever? Or can we, for whatever reason, live elsewhere for the long term? It’s not about tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or the next decade, but I still find this question very important.
Because humanity is currently destroying its planet and needs alternative places?
No no. It is quite clear that saving the planet is the number one priority. But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to scientifically explore the universe and see what opportunities for life exist. When we learn about other planets with comparative planetary science, we also learn about Earth. By understanding the history and future of Venus and Mars, our neighbors in the solar system, we can better understand the future of Earth.
Elon Musk plays a significant role in the “Artemis” program: his company SpaceX is supposed to build a lunar module. How realistic do you think his plans are to colonize Mars permanently?
I currently consider colonialism to be unrealistic, unhelpful, and unnecessary. This might look different in 500 or 1,000 years. From a scientific point of view, the question of whether humans can live long-term on other planets can be answered by a small group of explorers. It doesn’t have to be thousands or even millions of people.
There is a beautiful and partially executed fantasy that the universe connects people: what do you think about the fact that there is not much cooperation left?
Cooperation on the International Space Station has been very successful so far and has worked very well, although at the moment Russia is a question mark. While China has its own space program, it is not impossible to have cooperation in future space exploration. Even if that seems politically impossible at the moment.