IN FOCUS: In space, no-one can hear you if you speak alone

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NASA administrator Charles Bolden has taken a swipe at critics who think the USA has lost the drive to explore space, declaring that the country is determined to return to the Moon – and carry on to Mars.

Speaking on 20 May at an ILA Berlin air show panel discussion on international space co-operation, alongside his European Space Agency and Germany aeronautics agency (DLR) peers Jean-Jacques Dordain and Johann-Dietrich Wörner, and Evert Dudok, head of Airbus Defence & Space’s communication, intelligence and security segment, Bolden said: “Everybody seems to think America has given up on the Moon. Not so.”

The Moon, he added, will be a “proving ground” for technologies and skills needed to send a human crew to Mars – a 2035 ambition for the dozen space agencies which last year set out a “roadmap” for reaching the Red Planet.

All four underscored their firm belief that no such mission could be achieved – financially or technically – without wide international collaboration. Speaking from an industrial perspective, but reflecting the space agency directors’ views, Dudok says: “Global challenges cannot be met by national budgets.”

Bolden stresses that continued work on the International Space Station was critical to the long-term objective of reaching Mars, which he sees as important for all humanity.

Wörner took up that theme with an implied reference to the current tension between the USA and Russia over Ukraine. Noting that co-operation in spaceflight has often overcome “special political circumstances”, Wörner says he hopes future collaborative missions can be even more successful than the groundbreaking 1975 Apollo-Soyuz docking.

All four agreed an ambitious mission to Mars would need a leader, and saw Bolden as the chief candidate – if only because NASA has the biggest budget.

But while Bolden says if needed he would take on that role as “captain”, he called his “close friend” Dordain – head of the 20-nation ESA and set for retirement at year-end – the “dean”, for “teaching us all how to deal with international partners”.

And, as if to underscore the power of international co-operation to forge alliances, Bolden and Dordain ended the discussion with a big hug.