The European Space Agency and NASA on Wednesday talked about the prospect of placing the first European on the Moon, as they signed an agreement strengthening cooperation for future lunar exploration.
Space agencies had already agreed that three European astronauts would fly to NASA’s Gateway on the Orion spacecraft, a space station that would orbit the Moon as part of the Artemis program.
Now it looks like one of those astronauts will go a step further.
“We look forward to joining an ESA astronaut on the surface of the Moon and continuing to build on our long-standing, important partnership,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said after attending an ESA council meeting in the Netherlands.
“NASA is counting on collaboration with ESA to promote Moon exploration through the Artemis program,” Nelson said in a statement. “The European Service Module is the powerhouse of the Orion spacecraft”.
The agencies also signed an agreement on Lunar Pathfinder, a planned communications satellite built by British firm SSTL.
ESA bought SSTL’s services last year and will provide lunar communications to NASA as part of the deal. In return, NASA will launch Pathfinder into orbit.
The two space agencies will also conduct joint tests to build a satellite navigation network on the Moon, “like we navigate Earth today using Galileo and GPS,” the ESA statement said.
They also discussed the future of ESA’s ExoMars mission, after its planned launch on a Russian rocket later this year was canceled due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
ESA previously said it hopes to work with NASA to launch the mission, which will drill for signs of life on Mars.
Nelson said that “NASA is determining how to best support our European friends on the ExoMars mission”.
ESA Director-General Josef Aschbacher told a news conference that the topic was being “discussed in depth”.
“It is on the right track and I am sure we will have a good partnership at ExoMars,” he added.