The Moon is becoming increasingly important for space travel, both as a site for a station and as a supplier of raw materials. The American space agency NASA plans to return to human flights to the Earth's satellite in the coming years. German astronaut Matthias Maurer has a good chance of being there. The 54-year-old was last in space on the International Space Station ISS, from November 2021 to May 2022. He answers questions within the framework of the Ludwig Erhard Summit.

How do you manage not to argue on the cramped ISS space station?

Matías Maurer: When selecting astronauts, attention is paid to socially competent people. You already know what the future work environment will be like. In training courses we also learn that each person is different and has different needs and that it is best to speak up when there are problems. We practiced this together, sat down before the flight and clarified: What bothers you about me now? Then I'll tell you what bothers me about you. We did the same in space. Little things come out.

What little things?

Construction worker: For example, I thought I had put a lot of effort into ordering my Columbus module. And the others tell me that it could be a little more organized. These are the little details that everyone knows from home. Anyone who has ever lived in a shared apartment knows that some people get annoyed when the toothbrush is in the wrong place. This is no different in space. By talking about it, you can quickly defuse these points of friction. In our case this was very successful. NASA told us after the flight: You were the happiest crew we've ever seen in space.

How does cooperation work on the space station when the astronaut countries are at war on Earth?

Construction worker: I was in space when the Ukrainian war broke out. That was very, very sad. A very bitter moment for us. A few years ago, the ISS astronauts received the Westphalian Grand Peace Prize for their contribution to international understanding, which is awarded in memory of the end of the Thirty Years' War. The ISS began as a peace project.

Which way?

Construction worker: At the end of the Cold War, the Americans had plans to build their own space station. The Russians had the Mir station at the time and wanted to build a successor. They said: The Iron Curtain has fallen, the Soviet Union no longer exists, let's do this together, let's get closer and stabilize peace in Europe. This worked brilliantly for years.

The value of this space program in stabilizing the political situation in Europe cannot be underestimated. Therefore, the fact that another war broke out on Earth was doubly bitter. Astronauts always wanted to be role models. We prove this: if you on Earth worked together as well as we do in space, we would have many more resources and significant progress in the fight against all the challenges facing our planet, especially climate change.

And the situation on the ISS? Astronauts suddenly on different sides of the war?

Construction worker: On the space station we are people who know that we can only work together and keep everything running if we trust each other. That is why we addressed the situation immediately after the start of the war in Ukraine. The cosmonauts and my American colleagues felt the same as me. War is not a solution. It was very comforting to see that we were all on the same level. That is why the collaboration continued in an excellent way. The relationship of trust was there, even today. I think that when the war in Ukraine is over, we will need conversation channels again. One is the space program.

What's the best thing about being back on earth?

Construction worker: Therefore, Earth is, of course, a much better place than a space station. It all starts with the fact that you have fresh air here and you can open the door, go outside, enjoy the sun, breathe the fresh air of nature. The food is much better and more pleasant for the body every minute. Humans are not designed for weightlessness. We realize that. Up there we have fluid, rearrangements and then sometimes a slight feeling of pressure in the head. Life on earth is much more pleasant. So you look forward to all the beautiful things that await you here on earth. But there's something about floating in weightlessness like that. And I miss that too.

Why does the moon attract people?

Construction worker: The moon is an object that appears in the sky every night and that everyone knows about. Everyone has probably dreamed about what it would be like if you could fly there and walk on it and what the Earth would look like from there. The moon is a place of longing, always visible but never reachable. That's why it has such a magical effect on us humans. It also has real meaning.

Which?

Construction worker: We can do science from the Moon to better understand our Earth or the Earth-Moon interaction. How the early phase of the universe developed. These are all important ideas that allow us to get a little closer to the big philosophical questions that have worried people since time immemorial: How did all this come about? How did life come to earth? And is there life outside this earth?

What other opportunities does the moon offer?

Construction worker: There are also many opportunities for technological advancement on the Moon; for example, water ice in the polar regions. We know it now, but not at the time of the US Apollo missions.

So, between 1966 and 1972. That was the last time a person was on the Moon.

Construction worker: Exactly. Water ice is an important resource. This can be divided into hydrogen and oxygen. This is rocket fuel. That means the moon could become a gas station for travel beyond the moon. It takes a lot of fuel to move away from Earth because it has a strong gravitational pull. You could refuel on the moon and take off to Mars or wherever else you want to go. The moon will then be the new outpost of humanity.

And otherwise?

Construction worker: There are also resources on the moon that could be exploited, various metals. Helium-3 for nuclear fusion. The moon is also an interesting place for space observation to capture signals from the universe and obtain information about the early phase of the universe. These radio waves are absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere; we cannot receive them on Earth.

Soon people will land on the moon again. When is the time?

Construction worker: It is expected that the trip to the Moon will take place in the coming years; Europe is a very strong partner of NASA in the Artemis program. We have already obtained three tickets for European astronauts who will then be able to fly to the Moon. I hope to be one of them. In any case, I prepare accordingly. We have a new moon training center in Cologne. That's called Moon. There we prepare the technology for lunar exploration, as well as the astronauts and scientists who plan everything.

What would you take to the moon?

Construction worker: I think the Nebra Sky Disk would be a great item. This is the oldest object that realistically represents the night sky. It was found in Germany and is proof that two and a half thousand years ago people had the same questions as us. They wanted to understand how the universe works and they built this disk to use as a calendar, as a technical aid. If you fly to the moon, it would be good to take this thought with you. We continue the work of our ancestors, perhaps carrying with us a modern version of such a celestial disk, which could also serve, for example, as a reflector. We need these reflectors on the Moon to be able to determine the distance between the Earth and the Moon with millimeter precision using laser measurements from the Earth.

What else is needed on the moon?

Construction worker: A 3D printer to build a house. We cannot fly over cement or water. And that is why we have to learn how to build a house with moon sand. We also need to be able to make other things from lunar resources. Water ice can be used as drinking water. We can produce oxygen from it. And it can be used as an energy source, converting hydrogen and oxygen into electricity in a fuel cell. And we will probably have to take a lot of other things with us because we still can't manufacture all the high technology and electronics on the Moon ourselves.

You can follow Ludwig Erhard's summit live at www.leg-live.de. You can find the summit ticker here.

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