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Artemis, Orion and the Quest to Get Humans to the Moon Again
By Zulfikar Abbany
If you've ever been on a tour of a cleanroom — a sterile environment where engineers build and test satellites and other spacecraft — you will know it's a pretty surreal experience.
You're standing there, starring up at a rough and unfinished-looking object, seemingly wrapped in kitchen aluminum foil, with wires and solar panels sticking out at various angles and it's tough imagining what the thing will actually do when it's in an operational environment.
The engineers will tell you: This towering object is an instrument of precision and beauty. It will observe our planet Earth and deliver valuable data on our changing environment, monitor the oceans or track migration and military movements.
But it's virtually impossible to truly get what that means. You're unlikely to be one of the comparably few humans ever to see the thing in action, in situ.
Virtually 'Live'… to Be Watched Again Later
So imagine how surreal it was to tour a spacecraft, or as DW did this Tuesday (February 2, 2021), a set of European Service Modules (ESMs), via a shaky YouTube channel.
You're not in the cleanroom but in front of a computer screen. And the tour is a series of pre-recorded and pre-scripted video statements with bad sound. It was white noise — static — for the first ten minutes.
But we already know that the ESMs form an integral part of Orion, a human spacecraft that will fly astronauts to the moon and an orbiting lunar base called Gateway. We also know that Orion belongs to Artemis, NASA's human spaceflight program that aims to get humans back to the moon by 2024.
So, we had a head start. And YouTube being YouTube, we got to watch the whole tour again later anyway.
Andreas Hammer, Airbus's Head of Space Exploration, delivered opening remarks from a cleanroom in Bremen, where the event was meant to be held in person. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, that got nixed. So, there he was, all alone, dressed in a white lab coat and hair net.
Right off the bat, Hammer said attempts to send humans back to the moon started in Bremen, where those ESMs are being constructed. And the ESMs, said Hammer, are the Orion's "powerhouse."
There are three ESMs so far. They will provide air, electricity and propulsion, thermal control and all the consumables for the astronauts, including oxygen and water. ESA has just commissioned a further three units from Airbus.
Without the ESMs, there would be no human spaceflight with Orion, no mission.
"Nothing in space is simple," said Hammer's colleague Didier Radola, who heads the Orion ESM program at Airbus, and as such, no one goes to space alone.
ESMs 1 and 2
Artemis may be an American program but the Americans have drafted European know-how and technology to get the job done.
Hammer stood in front of ESM2, which is almost completely integrated and ready for the Artemis 2 mission, which will fly astronauts around the moon. It will be tested and handed over to NASA later this year.
ESM1 has already been delivered to the Americans. It's scheduled to be integrated with the rest of the spacecraft, loaded with fuel and launched by the end of 2021.
"You can see propellant tanks, cables, electronic devices. It's an incredible piece of machinery and I never get tired of getting totally amazed when I see and touch that," said Hammer.
Back and Forth to Our '8th Continent'
German star astronaut Alexander Gerst also delivered some inspirational remarks about human travel to the moon, replete with the usual clichés. But Gerst is talented and he is a good communicator.
Gerst calls the moon "our 8th continent." Going back to the moon will bring us the "knowledge of tomorrow," he says, including science on living sustainably on Earth and long term on the moon. He's also excited about bringing samples of moon and Mars rock back to Earth.
But later, during a Q&A session, ESA's outgoing director general, Jan Wörner, reminded us, that he is not a fan of the phrase "going back to the moon."
Saying were "going back" sounds too much like repeating what was last done during the Apollo moon missions between 1969 and 1972 — and that smacks of the Cold War era, said Wörner.
Instead, he wants us to go #ForwardToTheMoon. And then beyond — a reference to Mars and, no doubt, the three Mars missions (USA, UAE, China) that are about to arrive at the "Red Planet." But whether humans get back to the moon by 2024 depends, says Wörner, on the priorities of America's new political administration under President Joe Biden.
So, we'll have to "look forward" to see what happens. There is one area, however, where the space community seems entirely backward-looking.
Men, Women and All?
During the Q&A session, talk turned to the lucky astronauts who would get to fly first on Orion.
Walther Pelzer, Director General of the German Space Agency (DLR), spoke highly of Gerst's chances: "Of course we're interested in having a European astronaut with a German passport among them," said Pelzer. "But he should be experienced. He should have shown that he's a good leader, and Gerst showed he was an exceptional leader when he was commander of the International Space Station (ISS) and the mission didn't go as planned." That's our emphasis on all those he's.
Those comments, while true, seemed to ignore that a "she" or gender-neutral individual may possess those very same qualities, too.
DW just had to follow-up. We asked: "What is ESA actively doing to address the gender imbalance in space?"
So far, the bulk of astronauts who have been able to gain any experience at all — whether that's given them exceptional qualities or not — have been men. Ergo, the opportunities to be among the first to fly on Orion will be skewed in favor of men.
Better Living Through Better Communication
Jan Wörner smiled and said progress started with the language we all use.
"If you say 'manned spaceflight,' then it's already decided," said Wörner, "and that's not good. So, it's better to talk about human spaceflight or, in German, "astronautische Raumfahrt" (astronautical spaceflight).
Sometimes, said Wörner, "I've hidden behind what happened in the past and during the last class of astronauts we only had about 16% female candidates but that's not a good argument for the future and ESA will do what it can to promote female astronauts."
David Parker, ESA's Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, then added that Italy's Samantha Cristoforetti would return to the ISS and therefore gain the same level of experience as the rest of the European astronaut corps. "So, I don't know why you would discount her chances," he said. We at DW certainly don't.
The Right Direction
Pelzer, who recently replaced Pascale Ehrenfreund — a woman — at DLR, mentioned Anna Rathsman, the head of the Swedish National Space Agency.
"Yes," said Pelzer, "ESA's new DG [director general] is a man, but we just appointed Rathsman as the chair of the ESA Council, so we are going in the right direction."
Looking at the faces on the call, however, all the official representatives were men. And that is the overall picture at ESA, where 10 of the 11 top jobs are held by men, and Wörner's replacement, Josef Aschbacher, who will assume the role later this year, was chosen from a largely male list of candidates (one source told us it was roughly 85% male).
Our virtual tour and call ended with an odd feeling of deflation.
You normally get a chance to chat to familiar faces, colleagues from other media outlets, while the room empties. You might even get some feedback. But not here, where one gets the nagging feeling that virtual tours suit ESA's style. It's easier to control the message when the tour is pre-recorded and the moderator can mute unruly journalists.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
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Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
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While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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