Space research and manned space missions in particular are very expensive. Are people right to question it?
Yes, I think they are right. Therefore the manned space programme may not sit back, saying things like “it's interesting for the general public” or “it's important, so we should keep on doing it”. We should be able to show results. This will take a considerable effort and I think the ISS is an important step in this direction. Within a few years, when it is finished, we will have access to a large number of laboratories in space in which we can do real applied research, not just fundamental research. Eventually we will also carry out industrial investigations and maybe there will be commercial production in space. In this way we will be able to show the real results of manned space research. On the other hand, I also think that it's in human nature to continually broaden your horizons. It is because of this that we have come so far. First we ventured away from where we lived, then we crossed the oceans and eventually we began to fly. Now we have reached space. I think we should not be afraid to make the next step and start the further exploration of the Solar System. That is what the manned space programmes need to do.
What are the prospects for the European manned space programmes?
At this moment European manned space programmes are mainly concerned with the International Space Station. But I think we should be more ambitious. That's my personal opinion. In the future we should be able to go further than what we do now with the ISS. We are already a fully-fledged partner, but we can be an even bigger partner. I also think that Europe should be able to autonomously launch manned spacecraft. That's something we are not able to do right now.
According to you, how will space research evolve after the Space Station?
On the one hand one thinks about improvements on the Space Station. A number of problems are becoming clear now, like the limited capacity to send experiment data to the ground. New systems are being developed to send data at higher speeds. On the other hand the Space Station can be a stepping-stone to the rest of the Solar System. We can test new life-support systems, which are building blocks for the further exploration of the Solar System.
Is there enough political will for a mission to Mars?
Not in the short term. First the infrastructure of the International Space Station has to be completed. But later on I think there will be political will to make the step forward.