Time for the first European to visit the Moon?

NASA is counting on cooperation with  European Space Agency to propel exploration of the Moon through the Artemis programme.

The European Space Agency and NASA on Wednesday talked about the prospect of placing the first European on the Moon, as they signed an agreement strengthening cooperation for future lunar exploration.

Space agencies had already agreed that three European astronauts would fly to NASA’s Gateway on the Orion spacecraft, a space station that would orbit the Moon as part of the Artemis program.

Now it looks like one of those astronauts will go a step further.

“We look forward to joining an ESA astronaut on the surface of the Moon and continuing to build on our long-standing, important partnership,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said after attending an ESA council meeting in the Netherlands.

“NASA is counting on collaboration with ESA to promote Moon exploration through the Artemis program,” Nelson said in a statement. “The European Service Module is the powerhouse of the Orion spacecraft”.

The agencies also signed an agreement on Lunar Pathfinder, a planned communications satellite built by British firm SSTL.

ESA bought SSTL’s services last year and will provide lunar communications to NASA as part of the deal. In return, NASA will launch Pathfinder into orbit.

The two space agencies will also carry out joint tests to create a satellite navigation network on the Moon, "just as today we navigate using Galileo and GPS on Earth," the ESA statement said.

They also discussed the future of the ESA's ExoMars mission, after its planned launch on a Russian rocket later this year was cancelled due to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

The ESA has previously said it hopes to work with NASA to launch the mission, which will drill for signs of life on Mars.

Nelson said that "NASA is determining how best to support our European friends on the ExoMars mission".

ESA director general Josef Aschbacher told a press conference that "intense discussion" was being held on the subject.