esaEarlier today, Russia launched the 2014 Winter Olympics torch into space. Space not being known for an abundance of oxygen, the torch will sadly remain unlit for the next five days whilst it orbits the Earth. This can be forgiven, however, given just how epic the Olympic torch’s journey will be. It traveled to the North Pole last month aboard a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker and, after it returns from freakin’ space, it will take a dive to the bottom of Lake Baikal (the deepest lake in the world) before climbing to the peak of Mount Elbrus (the tallest mountain in Russia).

Today’s launch follows on from further space news earlier this week, with India successfully launching a probe bound for Mars, pipping China, whose Yinghuo-1 space probe failed to leave Earth orbit in 2011 and burnt up in the atmosphere. With Brazil also looking at the possibility of cooperating on joint space projects with Russia, it seems the BRIC nations are all eager to blast off towards the final frontier. But where does that leave Europe?

One of our commenters, Bastian, thinks it leaves Europe lagging behind:

citizen_icon_180x180Whereas, in the 1940s Germany was the avant-garde in [space technology], today it has degenerated to a second or even third rate supplier, in strategic terms behind China, Japan and even India. The ESA remains an appendix of NASA, with no room for a challenging European space programme.

To be fair, the ESA has already sent unmanned missions to Mars and Venus, whereas the current Indian effort is far less ambitious (though at a fraction of the cost) and Chinese and Japanese attempts at sending probes to Mars have all ended in failure. To get a proper response for Bastian, though, we spoke to Alan Cooper, the head of the Brussels Office of the European Space Agency (ESA), and asked him what he thought.

The extra-planetary ambitions of China, India and others shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a new “space race”, though. We also had a video question from Michiel, a student from Belgium, who wanted to know how the ESA could co-operate (rather than compete) with other space agencies from around the world.

Finally, we had a question sent in from Maro, who wanted to know why the ESA’s Galileo satellite navigation project was taking so long to complete:

One of the aims of the 30-satellite Galileo system is to provide a high-precision positioning system upon which European nations can rely, independently from the Russian GLONASS, United States GPS, and Chinese Compass systems, which can be disabled in times of war or conflict. Where are the 30 satellites necessary for the sovereignty and independence of the European Union? Surely there must be enough manpower and mechanical systems to complete construction of 30 satellites within one year?

Whilst the first four satellites have already been launched and the entire system is expected to be operational by 2019, Galileo has indeed experienced lengthy delays and is billions of euros over-budget. So, how would Alan Cooper respond?

Vote 2014

Voting is closed in our Debating Europe Vote 2014! The results are now in, so come and see what our readers thought!


79 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think? With India, China and Russia all developing ambitious space programmes, is Europe falling behind? Are we seeing a new "space race", or can the European Space Agency (ESA) cooperate with other space agencies around the world? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we'll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

  1. avatar
    James McManama

    Ana, India has big problems too – but they’re able to mount a space programme to send a probe to Mars.

  2. avatar
    Rob Riley

    Yes, unfortunately. More investment is needed and more ambitious programs.

  3. avatar
    Alex Semiserios

    Maybe. So what? Peaceful space exploration should be for all humanity. There’s enough Eurocentrism for one planet.

  4. avatar
    Karel Van Isacker

    Instead of exploring the moon and space, maybe Europe should focus on feeding and helping its poor. Wrong priorities have been and still are a core problem in the EU/EC/EP due to the fact that its politicians represent the rich and the wealthy, and also reward themselves as such. This is NOT how I see the EU as a success but as an evergrowing human failure.

    • avatar
      Mikko Karjalainen

      Feeding and helping the poor? I agree, that’s ideal. Through jobs we’re already trying to do just that. Feeding the poor is a never ending task! It’s finally going to drag us all down! What happens if we don’t invest on things like these and we soon start losing our hi-tech jobs and smart people? What? Are we going back to hunter-gatherer societies, because there was no poor people back then? What are we going to teach to our most brilliant kids? Some sort of feed-the-poor-and-lazy-slackers-to-the-end-of-times -stuff? Or are they just going to leave Europe as they have been doing already? Damn! You commies really are living in a weird la-la land… :D

  5. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    The ESA is too expensive to be successful and is hampered by ‘dodgy’ contracts, misallocations and too many nations wanting a piece of the ‘pie’.

    The EU should abolish ESA and let EU nation states compete for space space travel and exploration.

  6. avatar
    Isabel Lindley Cintra Torres

    its absolutely true Karel Van Isacker, and they don’t care with the planet, environment etc Europe could be the White Flag of Peace and Health in the World and not a small and greedy society that smashes other european countries through the so called corporations, banks, industrial monopolies etc

    • avatar

      What planet are you from?

      The undemocratic EU is the TOOL that was built by corporations and bankers precisely for the purpose of exploitation.

  7. avatar
    Debby Teusink

    I would hope that Europe will be more ambitious in the future. We have got the Ariane 5, a marvelous rocket and we could do much more including a space program to put a man on mars in a European space ship.

  8. avatar
    Samo Košmrlj

    We should indeed step up our investments in space program, contrary to what simple people here might think, money spent on knowledge and technology IS the way of feeding and helping the poor. What you haters should focus on is the greedy rich who dont contribute to the society, rather than on being against technologic and scientific advance.

  9. avatar
    Egon Witte

    Prima…schickt doch ein paar ganz tolle Banker und Politiker zum Mond Europa.. das wrs doch mal… Namen.. Kein Problem..

  10. avatar
    Dimitar Radev

    With my project Europe will win the new space race :D
    No seriously I think we should invest more in the “space race”.

  11. avatar
    Jovan Ivosevic

    For everyone who says, why invest in space when we have problems here on earth, I have absolutely no respect. Was medieval Europe so problem free when Columbus sailed west? Yet that voyage as the beginning of Europe’s ascent to dominance in the world. Secondly, the reason we have micro circuitry with lap tops, smart phones etc is because of the US Apollo program in the 1960s.

    Investing in space can lead to many jobs created in engineering, science and other areas. Europe absolutely needs to fund the Skylon project, the first and only “single stage to orbit” vehicle proposed by a British company. This craft will be the first choice among telecommunications and other companies for launching satellites into space because it will be able to do it for much smaller cost. Secondly, because that craft takes off and lands like an airplane and has no parts which need to be rebuilt, the possibility of carrying people into space and reusing that same plane in 48 hours is there. This could jumpstart a space tourist industry (first for the wealthier, but then it will be made cheaper due to economies of scale, just like the airline industry in the mid 20th century) and the construction of a space hotel.

    Another possibility is jointly investing with the US in a fusion rocket whose method of propulsion is under investigation by NASA from scientists at he University of Washington. This engine could ferry us to Mars in as little as 30 days (or 90, depending on the relative locations of the two planets) which opens the possibility to exploring the solar system further, including mining operations in the asteroid belt which will usher in a huge industrial boost. Not to mention it could be a huge boost to a project like Mars One – Human Settlement of Mars which is a private endeavor to build a permanent colony by 2022 with existing technology. Fusion power (which Europe is investing a great deal in through ITER), single stage to orbit space planes, and a mission to Mars and the asteroid belt should all be prime targets for the ESA, in that order.

  12. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    once Europe solves its major economic problems, it should follow the others in the space race.. will we always be watching others? in America the fact that they went to the moon, united the country and gave them a sense of pride and achievement.. Don’t we need something as this in Europe too?

    • avatar

      Greece can have its own space program… maybe Samaras can get the IMF to send him a request to cut benefits by 50% to fund it.

      Pay for it yourself, I want nothing to do with your undemocratic 20th century retread called the EU (Eurosoviet Union).

      As a democrat, I am utterly opposed to the EU. Like in 39-45, we the resistance are up against it but like our grandfathers defeated the Nazi Empire, we will defeat the EU.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      Bravo sir! Well said. The EU Fundamentalists must be curtailed too!

    • avatar
      Dimitar Radev

      If space program can solve resourse issues and improve overall living in eu why not.

    • avatar

      The Euro ‘crisis’ can only be solved by ending the Euro. The Euro is the problem.

    • avatar
      Dimitar Radev

      @MARCEL Is there a topic about the euro to wine there?

    • avatar

      @Dimitar Radev
      The Euro has caused mass poverty and unemployment. You would have to be a grade A sociopath to call complaining about that ‘whining’.

      But it is a well know fact that the EU only cares about banks and corporations.

    • avatar
      Dimitar Radev

      Sorry! You are right but got mad on your off topic comments.
      But let say that EU start mining Mars or the asteroid field first. Suppling the world with resources will make the euros in your hand very valuable. How ever they may currently caused more harm than good. Banks and Corporations have to go with or without space program. I think that the solution might be a more Direct Democration in EU.

  13. avatar
    Karel Van Isacker

    @ Samo: reading your comment I would rather say you are a “simple” person, locked up in a golden tower with no sense of reality. Before you call other people names, maybe try to read and understand the “simple people: they do not need rocket science but damn food on their plate every day”.

  14. avatar

    Space exploration? The EU has impoverished many and driven millions into unemployment via the wealth destroying Euro, and now they want to waste more money on this kind of nonsense?

    By the way, it is an utter lie that Galileo has no military applications.

    But yes its true that its main goal is civilian: creating a new road tax system whereof the Eurosoviet would be the beneficiary. We get to pay more tax, and the Barroso’s of this world continue to pay nothing. Oh how wonderful /sarc

    • avatar

      “As a democrat, I am utterly opposed to the EU. Like in 39-45, we the resistance are up against it but like our grandfathers defeated the Nazi Empire, we will defeat the EU.”

      Marcel, but isn’t this time the name of the resistance Le Pen, whereas the Left for whom you seem to talk is enthusiastically embracing the “Eurosoviet Union”?

    • avatar

      The left shouldn’t embrace the EU, because the EU (with the use of the Euro) is enriching the rich and impoverishing the poor. The Euro has caused mass unemployment. How can any real progressive support these bailouts for the rich?

      The only left wingers I see embracing the EU are champagne socialists like Blair and Schroeder and their political offspring because they like the unelected jobs.

  15. avatar

    I bet the French are all for it, on the condition that a big chunk of the contracts go to French companies.

  16. avatar
    Debby Teusink

    I am all in favour of a daring policy that is ambitious and why not put a European on Mars first? It would unite this great continent of ours!

    • avatar

      No it won’t.

      Because people like me (who like democracy and thus hate the EU) will refuse to pay for it.

      Furthermore, France shouldn’t get any contracts.

    • avatar
      Dimitar Radev

      Yes! Mars is the first step to mining the asteroid belt. I realy hope ESA has something good planned for Mars.

  17. avatar
    Debby Teusink

    Why not put a European first on Mars? It would unite our great conitent for sure!

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Debby Teusink
      As a UK citizen, I feel a closer affinity to India, Nigeria, USA, Australia or New Zealand than I do the EU.

  18. avatar
    Javier Sánchez

    Of course Europe is falling behind, as in information technology, and everything related to innovation. And is is that mentality as European (“this stuff is useless”) but I have to ask: wouldn’t these investigations create quality jobs? There are many Spaniard, Greek and Italian young engineers and scientists who are unemployed, and have to flee to the U.S. Don’t they have the right to work in their countries? Do not they have the right to work in our country? Invest in science and provide employment to these young people in their homeland!

  19. avatar
    Paul X

    The UK sends £280M to India in aid to help those suffering yet India can waste £45M sending a rocket into space, is that really something they should to be proud of?

    As far as priorities for spending money goes, throwing more junk into space should be bottom of the list

  20. avatar
    catherine benning

    Europe has so many unemployed, I can see the need to create jobs and presently the funds to needed for this employment has to come from government. Is the space race a good place to start this massive employment policy? Penny for penny how much good will this do? Will this feed those right here on the our piece of the planet?

    Are we to be as ridiculous and India, who following their history are ruled by Maharajahs, who have no concern for their poverty stricken and starving people. Don’t they still refer to them as Untouchables?

    Is this the way Europeans want to go? Or, is there more substance to our politics than making a show to an uncaring world. Is this is another rich mans game.

    If we were not in dire straits I would love to see the space age take off, but. we are bankrupt. And we have a duty of care for our citizens before we play at toys for fat cats.

    That said, the scientists are beyond the imaginable and one day, we will experience ‘Star Trek’ in all its glory. Because, it is as exciting as the new day at dawn.

    And just to be awkward, what about the pollution to the planet and to space? Do they have a clean up policy?

    • avatar

      Rosetta is back! Acquisition of signal was confirmed by Rosetta Spacecraft Operations Manager Andrea Accomazzo to the delight of the audience at ESOC and cheers and applause from those involved in the mission worldwide.

  21. avatar
    Debby Teusink

    The spin-of of the Apollo project is well known. I would like to see Europe being as bold as our American cousins and go for a manned Mars mission.

  22. avatar
    Spyros Tsakos

    Space exploration would be more effective with global cooperation that is based on regional support because it’s a big deal(i am talking about large scale deep space exploration). It would solve many problems in many sectors(including economy and environment) but also it requires to solve problems beforehand. The way i see it we might need substantial changes economically, politically and socially(and not only in Europe). In order to achieve this feat we must come together, stabilize the things here on EU and globaly, and then lets set out for the black ocean.Untill then i think that solving the economic crisis would offer us valuable solutions and steps to take that path, after all Europe has not fall so much behind as some believe as the crisis has taken its toll on many ambitious space projects in the US and elsewhere. I belive that the gap has remained more or less the same.

  23. avatar
    Ricardo M Lopes

    Of course Europe is falling behind, we keep failing in solving our internal problems, therefore we cannot expect to be leaders in innovation for example :) why keep this austerity in EU countries like Portugal, Greece, Spain or Italy? Lets solve this ( yes Germans, im talking about you..) and lets move towards a better future all together. If not, than forget about our future perspectives of being a big influence in this world :)

    • avatar

      You pay for it, then. Because we won’t.

      You should know that for the Euro to last, countries like Germany and the Netherlands have to structurally give up 20-25% of their wealth. Not gonna happen, pal. We ain’t gonna vote for that.

      My suggestion to you is to get out of the Euro. Ironically you’d be better off and it would hurt us. So why don’t you do it?

  24. avatar
    Dimitar Radev

    Currently I can see that the topic is going more about the money than about exploration and science. Currently the whole world is struggling and I dont think that we are going to find solutions on most of the problems on planetary level. We need new civilisation boost and we can make donations to programs or start our own programs to support the space exploration. I put my money on space mining. Anyone who think that the EU space program is falling behind can start supporting by being curious about it. Future is in space.

  25. avatar
    Debby Teusink

    We must grow out of the crisis by new initiatives like a space program and large infrastuctural projects, not only by cutting costs.

  26. avatar

    Lorsque l’homme européen aura compris , qu’il n’est pas le seul héritier de cette planète!! Alors! et alors seulement; il avancera sereinement, vers d’autres horizons!! Leurocentrisme est un frein !! un obstacle qu’il devra surmonter et depasser!! s’il veut réellement atteindre son objectif extra spatial!!! qui ne poura etre viable ! durable , solide !! que collectivement!! Ou!!! Alors ……..

  27. avatar

    We need to provide the ESA with funding to not fall back behind other countries. We’ve seen the American flag on the moon; maybe it’s time to see the European flag on Mars.

    • avatar
      Samuel Tandorf

      I agree.

    • avatar
      Paul X

      It’s a hell of a lot of money just to try and get “one up” on the USA
      The only thing the EU should be spending money on is to benefit it’s citizens not on pointless publicity and propaganda projects

  28. avatar

    The question which should be asked is weather Europe is falling behind India, China and Japan. I mean, Europe has been behind US, USSR and later Russia since the times of Nazi Germany (what a terrible heritage to cherish!).

  29. avatar
    Debby Teusink

    Well Gabriel, the americans had no objections to profit from the knowledge of the nazi’s and putting Werner von Braun at work, instead of bringing him to trail.
    But those days are long gone. I believe in a foreward looking Europe with ambitions to rise above our petty national instincts and to boldly go where no man has gone before…;-)

  30. avatar

    We should go to Mars and terraform it.

    Not because, like Kennedy said, it easy, but because it is hard. Because the future of the human race is more important than money, because achievement is its own reward, because it will force innovation and progress and bring out the best in those endeavoring.

  31. avatar
    Karel Van Isacker

    Why is this competition needed? Would it not be better they all worked together? I am sure that the billions spent by India could be put to better use for its high number of poors.

  32. avatar
    Ivan Vikalo

    It does, but there is no real political will.. It is ridiculous that Europe is so far behind in the most prestigous race..

  33. avatar
    Matt Wheatley

    While Europe can compete what it shows us is much more important. It proves that through cooperation we can achieve so much more. Even the most nationalistic Brits had to take pause at the achievements of Rosetta.

    Here’s to the continued success of esa and the development of more European and hopefully world wide cooperation.

  34. avatar
    Samo Košmrlj

    @Karel why dont they for example stop spending money on pop music? Or football? Or in India’s case, Bollywood and cricket? There is much more money invested in any of those yet they dont feed the poor either

  35. avatar
    Anatilde Alves

    Sons of bitches spending taxe payers moneys in such BS. This is why Europe is so down , giving money away to crap. EU MAfia

  36. avatar
    ελενη χρυσομαλακου

    In fact the only way for Europe to compete with China, Russia , India or any country of this size is to put together all its human capital and resources .ESA and Airbus are very good examples .

  37. avatar
    Andrea Zacchini

    I think a battery of ten years old wich resisted for about 50+ hours and allowed Philae to complete it’s primary science tasks, has done a great job! :D
    And it’s not finished: there is the possibility that when the comet will be closer to the Sun, the solar panels of Philae may charge the secondary battery pack.
    And yes Europe and we, Europeans, unite and together, we can do everything!

  38. avatar
    Aleksandros Ho Megas

    What BS propaganda this is: “…compete with India, China and Russia in a space race”? I am against any division when it is about space race, but if we are mentioning “competition”, for sure the most obvious is missed. America, anyone?!

  39. avatar
    Breogán Costa

    Actually, in space exploration we should not compete, we should collaborate. It is really expensive to explore space, and I’m afraid that the economic situation could end in a money cut in space program (well, actually, it already happened, but it could go worse)… so, collaborate, reduce costs, etc.
    The problem is when exploration is not civil industry, it is military, so, we end up in problems.

  40. avatar
    DrRobert Suzic

    Europe is already leading! However we need to join our research and operationalize it instead of putting 40procent of eu budget in agriculture

  41. avatar
    DrRobert Suzic

    Europe is already leading! However we need to join our research and operationalize it instead of putting 40procent of eu budget in agriculture

  42. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Europe has the financial power to compete with outher in the race to space peace and space programs worldwide

  43. avatar

    ESA lacks ambition, there still sleeping

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