The German astronaut Alexander Gerst (47) expects to build a permanent station on the moon. Sounds like science fiction? “Science fiction – but in reality!” Gerst told the German Press Agency in Cologne on Monday. “It’s like Antarctic research, you can look at it in history, it’s very parallel. The second wave of exploration doesn’t go to the moon to plant a flag, but to do science. First of all, you do that too in individual missions where you fly back and forth, but then, like in Antarctica, there will also be permanently manned research stations, I’m very sure of that.”

An Antarctic station would also be built in a deserted desert, in an ice desert. When this started, many people asked themselves: “What do we want here?” But really important science is being done there. “And that’s how it will be on the moon. You could say that Antarctica was our seventh continent that we discovered, and the moon is the eighth. That’s three days away, three days of flight time away, and that’s what we know about nothing yet.”

A “Luna” training hall is currently being built at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, where astronauts can prepare for future lunar missions. “It’s being built right here under our noses,” said Gerst. “It was already the topping-out ceremony. The hall looks good, there are tens of thousands of tons of simulated moon rock in there. And the idea is that all international partners – astronauts – actually train with us before they fly to the moon, because you can see the lunar situation there – the surface, the radiation and so on – is the most realistic model in the world.”

Gerst: “You are part of something big”

Gerst himself is a candidate for participation in upcoming lunar missions, although the first flights are not yet planned with European participation. As part of the “Artemis” program, after a successful but unmanned test at the end of 2022, the US space agency next wants to have three men and one woman orbit the moon on the approximately ten-day “Artemis 2” mission. Later, in “Artemis 3,” astronauts could land on the moon again after more than half a century, including a woman and a non-white person for the first time.

The training of a new cohort of prospective astronauts was completed with a celebration at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne on Monday. The French Sophie Adenot, the Spaniard Pablo Álvarez Fernández, the Northern Irish Rosemary Coogan, the Belgian Raphaël Liégeois and the Swiss Marco Sieber were all happy.

Gerst said completing basic training is a big moment for any aspiring astronaut because it comes to understanding that a space mission is now truly within reach. “You suddenly realize you’re part of something big. That’s why it’s an important day in the life of an astronaut.” When you start your training, you don’t really know whether you’re up to it. But in the end it’s clear: “Great, that’s a step I’ve taken.” That was a great feeling that he can still remember well.