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Last Updated: Friday, 16 January, 2004, 12:31 GMT
Europe keen to cooperate on Mars
Jean-Jacques Dordain, Esa
Jean-Jacques Dordain: Big year ahead
The European Space Agency has given a cautious welcome to President Bush's ideas for future manned exploration of the Moon and eventually planet Mars.

"This is a great and good piece of news for space," Esa Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain told a news conference.

"It shows that interest in space is growing everywhere in the world."

Esa's own Aurora project is already studying the technologies needed for human missions to Mars and Dordain said Europe would cooperate with the US.

Aurora was launched in 2001. Esa recently handed out the first contracts to look at the feasibility of missions to Mars to land a rover and return rock samples.

The missions could launch around the end of this decade.

Platform plans

Dordain did not say how Esa would work with the US space agency (Nasa) but the precedents for extended future cooperation on the Red Planet are well established.

The European Mars Express orbiter is taking pictures of the American rover Spirit's landing site in order to assist the six-wheeled vehicle's geology "field trip". And it was the US orbiter Mars Odyssey which acted as the initial communications relay for the lost European Beagle 2 lander.


Away from Mars, however, Europe will want clarification and agreement with the US on the future of the International Space Station (ISS).

President Bush said the platform would be declared built in 2010, when the space shuttle, which carries major components up to the platform, is retired.

The current grounding of the US shuttle fleet has further delayed a project that is overrunning and over-budget.

The European science module, Columbus, is still waiting to be attached.

Big year

"We are completely dependent on the United States when it comes to the ISS," Dordain told AFP, noting that Columbus, which was initially scheduled for launch at the end of 2002 "will probably be delayed by two years".

Artist's impression of the rover on Mars
Europe's orbiter is assisting the US Martian rover Spirit
Esa was trying to find ways of keeping scientific teams together during the delay rather than letting them disperse for want of a mission, he said.

When outlining the events planned for 2004, Dordain said that Esa's top priority was further cooperation with the European Union to implement a European space policy.

"Europe is already a key actor in space but more can be and must be done to answer the needs of European citizens and of an enlarging Europe" he said.

Agenda 2007, the director general's vision of Esa in the coming years, calls for an increase of 30% in ESA activities by 2007.

Ice mission

In his Agenda 2007 document, Dordain says that this increase is needed because of the demand for new services resulting from the enlargement of the European Union, the need to bridge the digital divide and the new tasks assigned to the European Union, such as those for defence and security.

CryoSat will investigate the Earth's ice cover
Esa has one of its flagship science missions planned for next month.

The Rosetta probe should lift off from Kourou in French Guiana on a 10-year quest to chase down, orbit and land on Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Another highlight of Esa's year ahead should be the CryoSat mission, planned for launch in the autumn.

CryoSat is a radar altimetry satellite. Its aim is to study possible climate variability and trends by determining the variations in thickness of the Earth's continental ice sheets and marine sea ice cover.

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