Is a living space in space possible


The Bernese Oberlander Thomas Zurbuchen is head of research at NASA. In an interview with the daily BlickExterner Link, the ruler talks about $ 5.85 billion about the most important missions of the USSpace Agency and the question of whether other life in space is possible.

This content was published on September 11, 2017 - 2:00 p.m.

Thomas Zurbuchen, what exactly are you looking for in space?

Thomas Zurbuchen: There is always one question: Is there any other life in the universe than ours? Life on earth is the only thing we know to this day.

A preacher son in space

Thomas Zurbuchen (49) is the son of a preacher from Heiligenschwendi in the canton of Bern and the first graduate in his family.

Since 2016 he has carried out 104 space missions with a budget of 5.85 billion dollars as head of research at the US space agency Nasa.

In 1996 he did his doctorate in astrophysics at the University of Bern and received a prize from the Swiss National Science Foundation. Two weeks later he traveled to the United States and stayed.

Since 2008 he has been a full professor at the University of Michigan. In the same year he received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, an award for young researchers in the USA.

He lives near Washington with his wife and two children. Zurbuchen's alma mater, the University of Bern, is celebrating 50 years of space research this month.

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How likely is it that there is life anywhere else?

T.Z .: As a scientist, I have to say: I don't know. But the chances are that we're the only ones.

How small

T.Z .: I can't say exactly. But I know that it is much more likely today than it was 20 years ago. When I was doing my doctorate, the probability of life in space was ten or even a hundred times smaller.

As the?

T.Z .: Everything we've found in space exploration makes it more likely that there is other life. For example, this year we only found out that every star has planets. And around ten percent of the stars even have Earth-like planets on which there can be water.

And what does that mean?

T.Z .: Every star has an environment in which there can be life. It's like with us on earth: We live on a planet of the sun. So life did not arise on the star, but in its environment.

How likely is it that one day people will be able to set up a colony on the moon, Mars or some other planet and emigrate there?

T.Z .: It is very likely that we will be able to fly to Mars with humans in a timeframe of ten to twenty years.

​​​​​​​Time horizon?

T.Z .: Probably the 2030s. That depends on our budgets and partnerships. We no longer have to develop certain technologies at NASA because Elon Musk, for example, is doing it.

Are Richard Branson's or Elon Musk's plans for space travel realistic for everyone?

T.Z .: Absolutely, yes. But it is difficult. If it were easy, they would have already done it. There are still unsolved problems.


T.Z .: First of all, we're still too slow. We have to develop missiles that are much faster. Second, the life support systems must become more efficient than on a space station today. They have to work more reliably because we can't just fly back quickly for a repair. We would be left behind for several years.

What are currently the most important space missions?

T.Z .: There are three: the Mars missions, the Europa-Jupiter mission and the James Webb Space Telescope.

In order: what is it about?

T.Z .: The missions to Mars are strategically important. We want to bring samples with all their volatile parts down from Mars to Earth. So far we only have individual stones from meteorites, which we can only assume that they come from Mars.

How far are you?

T.Z .: In 2020 we will send a Mars rover on its way. He will prepare the collection of these samples, from which we would like to learn more about the previous habitability of the planet and its development.

"First of all it is important that the habitat on earth is preserved."

Thomas Zurbuchen

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And on the Jupiter mission?

T.Z .: Here, too, it's about exploring whether and how life in space is possible. For this purpose, a huge ocean under a layer of ice is being examined on the moon Europa, which orbits the planet Jupiter.

Why is that important?

T.Z .: Because all theories about life in space have to do with water and the rock layers that surround it.

And what is the telescope used for?

T.Z .: With this mission we look very far back into the beginnings of the universe, at the first stars and galaxies. Here, too, it's about looking for life and places where life could be possible.

How important do you find it to be to find new living space for us in space?

T.Z .: First of all, it is important that the habitat on earth is preserved. But it is also important for humanity to go further and open up new land.

You yourself work on earth. Did you never feel like becoming an astronaut?

T.Z .: It would be great if I could travel into space like an airplane. I would do that. But today I would have to train as an astronaut for two years. I don't want to invest that much time on it. But maybe I'll do a supersonic flight in a fighter jet. The preparation for this only takes four days.

Finally: How big are the chances for the Swiss to fly on space missions?

T.Z .: Big! Claude Nicollier has worked on the largest missions. He is one of 530 people who have been in space so far. This means that the Swiss share of space travelers is twice as large as it should be measured against the share of the world population.

(Published in Blick Externer Link on September 7, 2017)

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