This article is taken from the monthly journal Sciences et Avenir – La Recherche #913 of March 2023.
Xavier Pasco is director of the Strategic Research Foundation.
Sciences et Avenir: why is it a return to the moon?
Xavier Pascoe: American manned spaceflight struggled after the shuttle’s launch and looked for a future beyond the ISS. By assigning Mars as his sole target, Barack Obama destabilized NASA at the very moment when Elon Musk was demonstrating his space ambitions. Donald Trump’s decision to return to the Moon returned the agency to the top of the industrial pyramid, with the ability to delegate logistics services to private players. It happened to the space station, it will happen to the moon. Because, unlike Apollo, this time it’s about taking over the space between the Earth and the Moon in a more permanent and more industrial way.
So, this is primarily an economic program?
It is important for American manufacturers to maintain their level of activity. The Artemis program incorporates this economic emergency with narrative discourse about the importance of settling on the moon and exploiting its resources.
Major space programs emerge from a convergence of interests. First, political, because there was a need to restructure the discourse about the importance of manned flights, which was losing credibility. Economic then, because this financial manna fuels other projects of the industrialists. And, finally, institutional, with NASA, which is regaining its place at the center of the game.
Is there a race with China, which is also planning a moon base?
China, in its logic, seeks to catch up with the attributes of an established international power. Big space ambitions today are represented by the United States, followed by Europe and other partner countries, and China, which is doing the same with Russia. But the United States still determines the future of the sector. And manned flight is an integral part of their identity.