FRANKFURT Jan 15 Think a village on the moon sounds like science fiction? - It could be a reality by 2030, if the head of the European Space Agency gets his way.
Jan Woerner has outlined a vision for replacing the International Space Station (ISS), when it is eventually taken out of service, with a lunar "village" of structures made by robots and 3D printers that use moon dust as a building material.
"I looked into the requirements I see for a project after ISS. As of today, I see the moon village as the ideal successor of the International Space Station for (space) exploration," Woerner said at a news briefing in Paris on Friday.
Woerner made a moon mission a central project when he took the helm of the ESA last July, saying it was a key step on the way to humans eventually flying to Mars.
Various nations and space-faring institutions - like the ESA, NASA, Russia and China - could participate in a moon village project, contributing technology and astronauts to help prepare for a mission to Mars and continue scientific exploration into physics and biology currently done on the ISS.
"If someone else comes up with a better idea, so be it... But so far there is no competing proposal on the table," Woerner said.
The United States said in 2014 it wanted to keep the ISS running until at least 2024, pushing back decommissioning of the station by four years.
But Russia has been looking at going it alone and creating its own orbital station, and some European nations that are members of the ESA have raised questions over whether the cost of operating the ISS for four more years would be worthwhile.
"We will make sure that we explain to member states that the value of the space station is there and that ESA should continue (being involved)... The value of the space station is not in question for me," Woerner said. (Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Additional reporting by Cyril Altmeyer in Paris; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
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