A new chapter in humanity’s exploration of the unknown
A few weeks before the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering spaceflight, 350 kilometres above the Earth, a unique situation occurred. The entire fleet of spaceships currently responsible for supplying the ISS, with the single exception of the Russian Progress capsule, were berthed simultaneously at the orbital complex that is the International Space Station (ISS): the US space shuttle, the second European ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) ‘Johannes Kepler’, the Japanese HTV, and two Russian Soyuz capsules. Fifty years after the first manned spaceflight, this gathering truly embodies Gagarin’s vision for the future: “Some day, I would love to fly in a spaceship with a crew of young astronauts of different nationalities – Russians, Indians, Americans. But for now, that’s only a dream.”
Left: 7,000 square metres is the size of a large football pitch, and that of the entire International Space Station, the largest structure ever created by man in space. The ISS circles the Earth at an altitude of 386 km, travelling at a speed of 28,000 km/h. © Airbus Defence and Space/Silicon Worlds
Gagarin’s dream of international cooperation in space did come true. On the ISS, which will remain in operation until at least 2020 – five years longer than originally planned – astronauts from many different countries now live and work together to realise even greater visions.
Right: The ISS has been hosting astronauts since the year 2000, making man’s permanent presence in space a reality. © ESA
They use the space laboratory not only to gain a better understanding of the stresses placed on the human body during extended missions and how to alleviate them, but also to develop new materials and to study the possibility of cultivating food in space. After all, if mankind is one day to explore even further afield, our space travellers will need to be as self-sufficient as possible and much less reliant on resupplies from Earth.
“Onward to Mars!” was the greeting adopted by the members of the Moscow Group for the Study of Reactive Motion back in the early 1930s. One of the group’s founding members was engineer Sergei Korolyov, the man who, 30 years later, would lead the construction of Yuri Gagarin’s Vostok rocket.
Left: ExoMars Rover prototype. Airbus Defence and Space engineers are ensuring that this rover will literally be able to go where no rover has gone before. © Airbus Defence and Space
The Red Planet has continued to exert a fascination over astronauts and terrestrials alike ever since. But it is becoming increasingly clear that manned exploration of the moon and interplanetary flight demand a tremendous effort – one it is almost impossible for any single nation to make alone. Indeed, such an endeavour calls for the international community to cooperate in the building of a sustainable space infrastructure similar to the ISS. And given its achievements in respect of the space station, Europe is well positioned to play a central role in future ventures deeper into space.
A number of studies undertaken by Airbus Defence and Space have already shown how the ATV could be further developed into a spaceship suitable for manned missions. First, the transporter would have to be made re-useable. Dr Michael Menking, Airbus Defence and Space’s Head of Orbital Systems and Space Exploration, says that the first flight by such an Advanced Re-entry Vehicle (ARV) could take place in 2016. Incidentally, the ability to bring experiments and equipment safely back to Earth would in itself be a major boon for the ISS. The next logical step would be to turn the vehicle into a crew transporter. With its high level of in-built redundancy, the ATV is already fully compliant with the safety requirements for manned flight – undoubtedly a promising start.
Right: What technologies are needed to ensure a safe, accurate moon landing and in-situ lunar research? Airbus Defence and Space is investigating this question in the Lunar Lander study for the European Space Agency (ESA). © Airbus Defence and Space
Of course, Airbus Defence and Space also has its sights set on the moon. The Lunar Lander concept envisages placing an unmanned research station and a rover on the south pole of the moon. “Before we send people to the moon, we must first ensure we know how to make a soft landing,” says Detlef Wilde, Head of Exploration Development at Airbus Defence and Space. This mission could take place in 2017/2018 and set yet another milestone on mankind’s journey into space.
2034 will mark the centenary of Yuri Gagarin’s birthday, and 2036 will see the 75th anniversary of his historic spaceflight. Will we be celebrating these occasions on the moon or on Mars? We’re working on it!
Quote from Yuri Gagarin:
“I hardly need tell you what I felt when it was suggested that I should make this flight, the first in history. Was it joy? No, it was more than that. Pride? No, it was not just pride. I felt great happiness. To be the first to enter the cosmos, to engage single handed in an unprecedented duel with nature – could anyone dream of anything greater? But immediately after that I thought of the tremendous responsibility I bore: to be the first to do what generations of people had dreamed of, to be the first to blaze a trail into space for mankind. This responsibility is not towards one person, not towards a few dozen, not towards a group. It is a responsibility towards all mankind – towards its present and its future.”
Find out more! A special dossier full of informative articles has been created about 50 years of manned spaceflight
Living in Space Dossier: Human beings beyond the confines of the Earth’s atmosphere