China will consider helping to train European astronauts and is making technical preparations to do so, according to a senior Chinese space scientist.
Huang Weifen, deputy research chief of the Astronaut Center of China, said on Wednesday that it is highly likely that China will open some training sessions for European space explorers, as this is on the agenda of Chinese space authorities.
The Chinese and European space communities have benefited from their cooperation in astronaut training, she said.
Huang said that in January 2013, European astronauts took part in a weeklong exchange and training program in China, and the two sides later agreed to enhance training collaboration.
"Once the government approves the training plan, we can start it immediately, because we have been making preparations for a long time and we have such capabilities," she said.
Huang made the remarks at a news conference at the Astronaut Center of China, which is in a Beijing suburb, during which Ye Guangfu, one of China's newest astronauts, was introduced.
Ye, 36, a Chengdu native, recently finished a week of underground training in Italy that was organized by the European Space Agency. He is the first Chinese astronaut to participate in multinational training.
The training is called Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising. The program, launched in 2011, is designed to hone astronauts' skills in multi cultural approaches to leadership, following orders, teamwork and decision-making.
Ye, who joined astronauts from the United States, Russia, Spain and Japan, was responsible for exploring unknown areas in the cave, analyzing data, creating a 3-D model and monitoring the underground environment.
Li Xinke, a senior official at the Astronaut Center, said Ye did very well during the training and was highly recognized by his foreign counterparts.
"Space missions often involve high pressure, high risks, isolation and other negative elements that would affect a crew's morale and interpersonal relations," Li said.
"Therefore, the cave training is useful for astronauts to improve their adaptation to extreme environments."
According to the Astronaut Center, Ye was an experienced fighter jet pilot with the People's Liberation Army Air Force before being selected by China's manned space authority in 2010.He has 1,100 hours of flight time.
European Space Agency announces plans to build a 'Moon village' by 2030
Villages on the Moon built by huge 3D printers and inhabited for months at a time by teams of astronauts could be a reality in the next decade or so, a recent conference of 200 scientists, engineers, and industry experts has concluded.
Construction of this manned lunar base could begin in as little as five years, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced at their International Symposium on Moon 2020-2030 in the Netherlands last month, suggesting that a new Moon village could provide a potential springboard for future missions to Mars.
"The ESA space-exploration strategy sets the Moon as a priority destination for humans on the way to Mars," NASA’s Kathy Laurini told Leonard David at Space.com. "The timing is right to get started on the capabilities which allow Europe to meet its exploration objectives and ensure it remains a strong partner as humans begin to explore the Solar System."
NASA in particular has a vested interest in seeing this happen, as the Moon has been designated the most strategic pitstop for a manned mission to Mars, with MIT scientists calculating last month that astronauts could launch from Earth with up to 68 percent less mass if they collected most of their heavy liquid fuel from a Moon base on the way.
Add that to the fact that NexGen Space LLC, a consultant company for NASA,recently estimated that a lunar refuelling station would "reduce the cost to NASA of sending humans to Mars by as much as $US10 billion per year", and a Moon village is starting to look pretty inevitable.
The plan outlined by the ESA is that, starting from the early 2020s, robots will be sent to the Moon to begin constructing various facilities, followed a few years later by the first inhabitants.
Back in 2013, the ESA teamed up with building companies to start testing out various Moon base-building technologies, and determined that local materials would be the best for constructing buildings and other structures, which means no need for transporting resources from Earth at an astronomical cost.
"First, we needed to mix the simulated lunar material with magnesium oxide. This turns it into 'paper' we can print with," Enrico Dini, founder of UK manufacturing company, Monolite, said at the time.
"Then for our structural 'ink', we apply a binding salt which converts material to a stone-like solid. Our current printer builds at a rate of around 2 metres per hour, while our next-generation design should attain 3.5 metres per hour, completing an entire building in a week."
Architectural firm Foster + Partners came up with a weight-bearing 'catenary' dome design, which features a cellular structured wall to shield residents against micrometeoroids and space radiation, and a hollow closed-cell structure that would give the building a good strength-to-weight ratio.
Once we’re there, scientists argued, we could figure out if the resources on the Moon are as valuable as we think they are.
"We keep talking about lunar resources, but we still need to demonstrate they can be used … [that] they are, in fact, reserves," engineer Clive Neal from the University of Notre Dame told Space.com. "So ground truth verification of deposit size, composition, form and homogeneity requires a coordinated prospecting program. A successful program would then clearly demonstrate that lunar resources can enable solar system exploration."
Whether the Moon village becomes a reality in the next decade or so, NASA is determined to get its astronauts orbiting around it for months at a time,announcing last month that it’s "going to get out of ISS as quickly as we can" to set up shop near the Moon instead.
There they will be days, instead of hours, away from Earth, and far from its protective geomagnetic shield, which will give astronauts a better idea of what they would have to endure physically and psychologically on a manned mission to Mars.
One thing's for sure - we're in for some exciting times ahead.
Will European countries ever land a rover on Mars?
Equipment problems have pushed back from 2018 to 2020 a rover mission to the surface of Mars, called ExoMars, that is in joint development with European and Russian space agencies.
"Having assessed the possible ways to ensure successful mission implementation, the [ExoMars steering board] concluded that, taking into account the delays in European and Russian industrial activities and deliveries of the scientific payload, a launch in 2020 would be the best solution," the European Space Agency (ESA) announced on its website Monday. It had previously warned that the delay was likely.
The rover is the second phase of the ExoMars program. The first phase, Trace Gas Orbiter, launched in March. Once it reaches the Red Planet in October, and locks into orbit around it, the instrument will scour for signs of methane gas which could signal microbial life, according to Science.
The orbiter is also carrying a lander, Schiaparelli, which will attempt to land on Mars and to test important instruments in anticipation of the rover's landing, such as a parachute and a radar altimeter, a tool used to measure altitude.
But it is the second phase of ExoMars that is the most exciting. Its main objective is to find life, which it will attempt to do by drilling up to 6-1/2 feet beneath the Martian surface, where any evidence of past or present life on Mars ismore likely to be found, as SpaceNews reports.
There is also a bit of a competitive angle to the successful landing of a rover on Mars by European countries, as it would make for the first non-American rover landing on Mars.
"The successful implementation of both ExoMars missions will allow Russia and Europe to jointly validate cutting-edge technologies for Mars entry, descent, and landing, for the control of surface assets, to develop new engineering concepts and service systems that can be used by other Solar System exploration missions, and to carry out novel science at Mars," said the ESA in Monday’s statement.
Russia joined the ExoMars project after NASA pulled out of the partnership with ESA in 2012. Its contribution to the nearly $1.4-billion program – now getting pricier because of delays – is rockets to deliver equipment for the two missions to Mars and the system that will be used to deliver the rover to the planet’s surface.
The country has recently cut its space program budget by 30 percent because of an economic crisis spurred by declining oil prices and Western sanctions over its actions in Ukraine. This means that Russia's space budget for 2016 to 2025 will be reduced to $29 billion. In contrast, NASA's budget for 2016 alone is $19.3 billion.
Rolf de Groot, head of ESA's robotic exploration coordination office, told SpaceNews Monday that Russia's economic problems are not responsible for the ExoMars delay.
"No, it has nothing to do with that," he said. "They are having severe budget cuts compared to last year, but this is not impacting ExoMars. ExoMars is still a high priority for them," said Dr. de Groot.