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Asteroid Day - Interview with Etienne Schneider

Date: 20-02-2017

Translated PaperJam article by Jean-Michel Gaudron

Luxembourg is set to be the world centre for Asteroid Day on June 30 of this year; a day of information and education under the aegis of the United Nations. This offers Luxembourg an additional opportunity to set its course in the space sector where the country is becoming increasingly important.

Q – Minister Schneider, is directing the operations of the next Asteroid Day on 30 June a way for Luxembourg to once again take the lead in the field of space initiatives?

A - "Certainly, yes. We also hope to convince the leaders of this association to move their headquarters from the United States to Luxembourg and we are in discussion on this matter. It is important to see that this United Nations Day is also aimed at the entire space community, and it is essential for them to see what Luxembourg's commitment in this field can be. This is obviously crucial to our brand image and it also demonstrates the seriousness of our space resource initiatives.

“It is quite possible that the Luxembourgish language may be the official language of space in the future.” Schneider, Minister of the Economy

Q - This Luxembourg initiative made some people smile at the beginning. But does Luxembourg now have the last laugh?

A - "It is clear that no one is smiling any longer. On the contrary, there is a real shared satisfaction that a country has taken the lead on this issue. In 2016, a report commissioned by Prime Minister Manuel Valls on the French space sector cites Luxembourg's good example in this field many times.

We have contacts all over the world, from the United States to Japan. Moreover, we will soon be communicating about a Japanese company active in this sector.

Not a single day goes by without international media contacting us about this. This week, an Australian television team was present in Luxembourg.

We now occupy more space in space than on Earth!  And I often say to all those who do not yet speak Luxembourgish that they should better begin learning it, because this may well be the official language of space tomorrow.

Q – What will Asteroid Day be like in Luxembourg?

A - "We have not yet finalised the programme, but we will work together with the National Museum of Natural History to organise events with school classes. We will also try to have astronauts here who can talk with people.

Q - What are the implications for the country?

A –"First and foremost, additional visibility. But it will also clearly constitute another brick in the construction of our project. If we have launched the idea of ​​a specific legal framework for the future exploitation and use of space resources, it is because it didn’t exist anywhere else. Obviously, we support the development of a new 'Space Act' at the UN level.

Being the first to move has made others get going too.

What is clear is that nothing can be done without close cooperation between countries. It is now necessary to find the countries most involved and structure all the actions, in order to avoid everyone doing the same or spending huge sums for things that have already been done.”

“Being the first to move has made others move.”  Étienne Schneider, Minister of the Economy

Q - Should the European Space Agency (ESA) take over in terms of coordination?

A - "For two years, with my Swiss counterpart, I chaired the European Space Agency. When I first started talking about the subject, no one was interested. But in the meantime, we have seen that there is a real motivation and a real interest on the part of many countries. Now the ESA is clearly on our side and we are working hand in hand with the agency's director, Johann-Dietrich Wörner.

Q - What about the future of the AIM (Asteroid Impact Mission) project jointly proposed by ESA and NASA but rejected last December at the ESA ministerial meeting in Lucerne?

A - "This is an important project, in order to give us all the means to avoid the impact of an asteroid on Earth. NASA is in charge of shooting on this celestial body to deviate it from its trajectory, while the ESA’s task is to observe is what is happening on this asteroid.

The project was indeed rejected because of lack of funding. A minimum of 140 million euros would be needed to get it started. Luxembourg has given its approval 20 twenty million. Other countries followed, but not enough, most notably Germany, without whom nothing can be done.

Nothing is definitely buried and we will continue these discussions. I must also meet Brigitte Zypries, the German Minister for the Energy and the Economy, who has just been appointed. She was formerly Secretary of State and rather favourable to this project. I hope that, having become a minister, she will have the freedom to make it happen.

In any case it is important to be able to do so, because unlike most research projects in the field of space, this one really interests and speaks to people. It is something concrete! If you tell people that dinosaurs no longer exist on Earth because of climatic change caused by an asteroid or that, in more recent times, there were 1,500 people injured in Russia because of the fall of another asteroid, then it is possible to interest and involve people. That is why it is so politically essential to finalise this project. "

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