Germans have dreamt about going to the moon for over a century. German expressionist director Fritz Lang depicted a rocket trip to the moon in his 1929 classic "Frau im Mond" ("Woman in the Moon"), while German rocket pioneers like Wernher von Braun fantasized about putting a man on the moon and later helped develop the United States' NASA space program. Now the Germans are finally making the trip -- and without any European help.
The German Aerospace Center (DLR) plans to send an unmanned space shuttle to the moon by 2013, the German television station ARD reported Sunday. The aim of the mission would be to research mineral resources on the moon. In the long-term, minerals such as helium-3, which is used in nuclear research and is rare on Earth, could be exploited, the report said.
The news gives more information about the DLR's lunar ambitions, which were unveiled recently. At the end of February, the DLR presented plans to politicians in Berlin for a probe which would survey the whole surface of the moon -- currently only 18 percent of which has been mapped -- over a four year period.
Conservative member of parliament Kurt Rossmanith told the television station that the German government was well aware of the potential economic wealth to be found on the moon. "And there we also have to -- putting it very bluntly -- stake our own claim," he said.
According to the ARD report, the moon mission will cost €500 million ($658 million). The mission would have the happy side effect of promoting the development of Germany as a location for science and innovation, said Frank Pohlemann from EADS Astrium, a Bremen-based subsidiary of Airbus parent company EADS which specializes in satellites.
The new mission reflects growing European ambitions regarding space research. David Southwood, science director of the European Space Agency (ESA), recently boasted of Europeans' space prowess. "We could put people on the moon, certainly," he said in a recent interview with the Associated Press. "Just because the American and the Russians were first in the space race doesn't mean they always have to win it."
Nevertheless, Germany is planning to go it alone, putting more faith in a national effort rather than an ESA joint mission. After the multi-national Airbus debacle , it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that international co-operations are fraught with mishaps. "I think it's smart to try the mission on a national basis first of all," Walter Döllinger, director of the DLR's space program, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "After that, we can think about bringing our weight to the ESA and demanding a leadership position."
Döllinger added that it could be possible to work together with the Italians, who are also considering developing a moon probe. There was no mention of working with the French.
With reporting by Markus Becker